A highway funding bill with which no one is satisfied
The best thing most people have said about the House bill to replenish the Highway Trust Fund is that itês better than nothing which was starting to look like the alternative. The closer it gets to the midterm elections, however, the less anyone in Congress wants to raise any taxes. That means no one wanted to raise the gas tax for the first time in 21 years so it could keep funding the Highway Trust Fund.
So the House last week passed a $11 billion stopgap bill that would pay for the Fund until after the midterms. The Senate, which had been working on a bill to extend funding until next May, could instead take up the House bill next week. Because the gas tax is no longer enough to support infrastructure needs, highway funding will come from pension smoothing, widely acknowledged as a budgeting gimmick, and customs fees. As The Hill points out, the revenue will come in over 10 years but will be spent in the next eight months. Curiously, the White House, which has lobbied hard for a longer-term measure, has endorsed the House bill as the best alternative, for now.
As part of its education effort, the White House Council of Economic Advisers and National Economic Council produced a report that showed the state-by-state impact of bankruptcy in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). It may come as no surprise to area drivers that 95 percent of the 1,051 miles of public roads in Washington, DC, are in poor condition, and nearly 6,000 jobs in the city would be jeopardized by a HTF bankruptcy. In Maryland, only 20 percent of public roads are in poor condition, but more than 12,000 jobs could be at risk. In Virginia, just 6 percent of public roads are in poor condition, but 17,228 jobs could be lost.
Transportation advocates were lukewarm about the emerging deal in Congress. The only way that a short-term patch of the Highway Trust Fund is acceptable is if it buys Congress a few months to work on finalizing a bipartisan, long-term agreement later this year, wrote Bob Darbelnet, president and CEO of the American Automotive Association. AAA favors an increase in the gas tax.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the short-term measure is an important first step, but the group also urged a bipartisan, sustainable and long-term solution.Download Bulletin PDF