Restocked Highway Trust Fund won't last long, CBO says

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Temporary money approved by Congress bought some time for the Highway Trust Fund, but the threat of a shortfall in 2015 remains a harsh reality according to the Congressional Budget Office. The office projects that the highway balance will fall about $2 billion short in 2015 and drop even lower without action by Congress to keep it afloat.

Current law requires the trust fund to carry a minimum balance – projected at $4 billion – to make sure it can pay for transportation projects as the price tags come due. That keeps enough in the fund to cover the hundreds of millions of dollars that are paid out each day while waiting for receipts from fuel taxes and other user fees that are transferred into the fund twice each month.

Current law prohibits the fund from going into the red even though it’s been dangerously close a few times in recent years.

Congress passed a bill to inject $10.8 billion into the Highway Trust Fund this summer, with the money projected to last through May 2015.

After that, the fund will tick down below the minimum $4 billion balance and head for a possible zero balance by September.

The short-term nature of the extension puts pressure on Congress to act again.

A multiyear surface transportation bill would shore up the fund for a longer term, but even a six-year proposal that emerged from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee earlier this year would require a new source of funding or a tax increase.

The Congressional Budget Office, which “scores” the actions of Congress and projects their effects on the budget, estimates that the Senate EPW’s proposed highway bill would still need $85 billion in new funding. To date, the Senate committees responsible for finding that funding and getting a bill passed have not come up with anything to handle the long term.

OOIDA advocates for a multiyear highway bill that spends fuel taxes and other user fees responsibly for roads and bridges. The Association rejects ideas that would privatize or sell public roadways to the private sector or that would turn existing toll-free roadways into toll roads.

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