Congressional Budget Office: Even $302 billion is not enough for transportation

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Monday, April 21, 2014

It’s a ton of money no matter how you look at it, but compared to the needs of the transportation system, $302 billion will not stretch far enough according to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO says President Obama’s proposed four-year plan for roads, bridges and other infrastructure stands to fall about $4 billion short – and that’s only if Congress approves it.

The CBO has warned for some time that the Highway Trust Fund will fall into the red as early as this year – something that U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is quick to point out during tour stops to promote the president’s funding plan.

Even if Congress were to approve Obama’s $302 billion proposal, the highway and transit accounts would still face a negative balance in a few short years, the CBO stated in its latest report.

Congress holds the purse strings for transportation, and the deadlines keep coming. Lawmakers could soon introduce a multiyear surface transportation authorization bill, known as a highway bill, in the coming months. The current highway bill is set to expire Sept. 30.

Funding will be the largest hurdle for the highway bill as the process moves along.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is discussing a tax-reform package floated by U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. For transportation, the Camp plan calls for a $126.5 billion infusion into the Highway Trust Fund during an eight-year period.

The CBO evaluated the Camp proposal earlier this year, indicating that it would still leave the Highway Trust Fund short of running a surplus, but would at least close the gap significantly.

Democratic leadership in the Senate is just beginning to sort out a possible funding mechanism for transportation.

A possible increase to the federal fuel tax, which truckers generally support as the tried-and-true method for funding highways and bridges, could be off the table thanks to 2014 being an election year for 435 House representatives and 33 senators.

The last time a proposed fuel-tax increase made it through Congress was in 1993.

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