Competing House and Senate plans to stave off insolvency for the Highway Trust Fund have lawmakers scrambling to reach an agreement before Friday, when transportation programs expire and federal officials say the fund’s low balance will trigger payment delays and cuts to states next month.
Unfortunately, both plans are flawed. The House passed legislation earlier this month to cover five months with $8 billion from the Treasury’s general fund, paid for with unrelated revenue from corporate tax changes and transportation security fees.
Last week Senate leaders introduced legislation to provide three years of transportation funding with $47 billion in general revenue, with unrelated offsets that included lower Federal Reserve dividend payments to banks and oil sales from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Some lawmakers consider the offsets to be budget gimmicks. Opponents of the Export-Import Bank also objected to an amendment to the legislation that would renew the bank’s now-expired charter, an unfortunate distraction from transportation funding.
Lawmakers should extend the solvency of the trust fund for as long as they can responsibly pay for, and start working on a permanent solution to the chronic mismatch between dedicated revenue and spending for transportation programs. They must stop kicking the can down the road with short-term options.
Highway Trust Fund Ticker (Department of Transportation)
Congressional Highway Bills Are Increasingly Irresponsible (Bipartisan Policy Center)
McCarthy: House Won’t Take Up Senate Highway Bill Before Recess (Roll Call)
Raise the Gasoline Tax Before It’s Too Late (Bloomberg)