Lawmakers Measure Red Ink For Safetea Funding Source

Congressional and Department of Treasury officials differ on the timing, but agree that the Highway Trust Fund, into which federal taxes on gasoline and

Congressional and Department of Treasury officials differ on the timing, but agree that the Highway Trust Fund, into which federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel are deposited, will see a negative balance at the current rate of spending under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA). House Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Petri (R-WI) noted in a Capitol Hill hearing last month that Treasury forecasts in President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2007 budget indicate red ink for the highway account in 2009, while the Congressional Budget Office predicts a negative balance in FY 2010. When Congress passed SAFETEA last summer, it was done with the expectation that the guaranteed funding levels would be fulfilled for Fiscal Year 2005 through Fiscal Year 2009, Rep. Petri said. We can’t ignore it [Highway Trust Fund solvency] and under finance it.

The hearing was intended to give subcommittee members a better understanding of the revenue estimating process and the impact of the recent revenue projects. Representatives of the U.S. Department of Treasury, Congressional Budget Office, and Government Accountability Office told the subcommittee that while revenues into the HTF will increase over the life of SAFETEA, the investment levels contained in that measure will outpace motor fuel user fee receipts. The witnesses differed on the extent of the impact on the trust fund. The Treasury Department estimates that by end of fiscal year 2009 Û SAFETEA’s sunset Û the HTF highway account would have a negative balance of $2.3 billion. CBO projects higher revenues and does not show the HTF highway account running a negative balance until fiscal year 2010. Witnesses provided three potential options to address the situation: increase revenue sources into the trust fund; decrease highway spending; or shift distribution of funds between the HTF’s highway and mass transit accounts.

Shortly after the hearing, the HTF funding crisis was brought to the attention of Senate members as they passed a commemorative resolution recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. June 29 marks the day President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created the pay-as-you-go financing system for the HTF, which provides funds for the Interstate system and other highway and transit projects. In the House, Representative Don Young (R-AK), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sponsored a similar concurrent resolution No. 372. The measure has been reported out by the committee and will go to the full House in June.

Senate resolution No. 427 was introduced by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and all the committee members.Said Sen. Inhofe, The current challenges facing the Highway Trust Fund Û and hence the highway program Û will be very difficult to resolve and not unlike the challenges faced by the authors of the 1956 Act. It will be up to policymakers to be as visionary as they were 50 years ago. A new vision is needed in what the highway program will stand for in the next 50 years and how to pay for it.
Û AASHTO Journal, April 2006 editions