Highway Trust Fund headed for the red, again

| Thursday, May 21, 2009

In September 2008, Congress enacted an emergency measure to restore $8 billion to the Highway Trust Fund to keep it running in the black. Well, the fund could be headed for the red again and sooner than anticipated, according to sources on Capitol Hill.

Transportation Weekly, which is published by the Legislative Services Group and covers the actions of transportation lawmakers and staff on the Hill, reported Wednesday, May 20, that the Highway Trust Fund could run out of day-to-day cash by early September or perhaps sooner.

Because it is unlikely that the next transportation authorization bill will be completed and passed by then, Congress could be forced to make another temporary fix.

The Trust Fund takes in taxes from fuel and highway user fees and doles the money out to states for transportation projects. For a while now, the fund has been paying out more than it has been taking in.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the Trust Fund declined $1.37 billion, or 5.4 percent, from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2008.

Miles traveled in the U.S., measured by FHWA through fuel consumption, made up a $580 million portion of the $1.37 billion shortfall.

Almost 33 percent, or $763 million, of the shortfall was because fewer new trucks and heavy equipment was sold and the 12-percent excise tax was not collected.

Tire taxes accounted for $29.8 million of the shortfall, while the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax declined by $1.3 million, all indicators of tough economic times for truckers.

Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said everyone involved in transportation on Capitol Hill knows that a Trust Fund shortfall will most likely precede the authorization bill.

“We’re confident that the appropriate committees on Capitol Hill and the administration are aware of the pendulum shifting once again to where we have less money flowing in to the Highway Trust Fund than is being paid out of the Highway Trust Fund,” Joyce told Land Line.

“We certainly wouldn’t want anything to happen that would hamper projects in the pipeline right now when our economy needs construction and infrastructure improvements.”

– By David Tanner, staff writer
david_tanner@landlinemag.com

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