Last week 130 Members of Congress (73 Democrats and 57 Republicans) sent a letter to Chairman Brady (R-TX) and Ranking Member Levin (D-MI) of the House Ways & Means Committee urging them to include addressing the long-term solvency of the Federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) in their plans for overhauling the U.S. tax code. They wrote:
“The need for improvements to our nation’s infrastructure and safety programs is long overdue. However, the current finances of the HTF make it unable to support those investments…We recognize that tax reform legislation will be a heavy lift. Finding a solution requires ingenuity and will involve building consensus among competing interests and ideas, but we stand ready to work in partnership to reach this critical goal.”
The HTF is supposed to fully fund the federal government’s investments in roads, bridges and transit, but for several years now it has been spending more money than it is taking in. The root of the HTF’s solvency problem lies in its primary funding source: the federal motor fuels tax. The federal motor fuels tax of 18.4 cents per gallon for gas and 24.4 for diesel has not been raised since 1993 and inflation has decreased its real value by 40%. To fill the gap, Congress has been diverting general fund dollars into the HTF since 2008. The FAST Act, the five year surface transportation bill signed in December 2015, included a $70 billion transfer from the general fund to the HTF.
Even with the passage of the FAST Act, our nation’s current level of investment in surface transportation is less than half of what’s actually needed. ASCE’s new report shows that the U.S. needs to invest an additional $1.1 trillion in surface transportation over the next ten years (from federal, state, local and private sources). Failing to sufficiently invest in America’s deteriorating infrastructure will have a cascading impact on our nation’s economy, impacting business productivity, GDP, employment, personal income, international competitiveness, and, most importantly, public safety. The report found that if the surface transportation funding gap is not addressed, the U.S. will lose over $1.2 trillion in GDP and 1.1 million jobs by 2025.
Over the past 30 years, all increases in the federal motor fuels tax have occurred as a part of larger tax reform packages, Therefore, Reps. Brady and Levin’s work could offer an opportunity for Congress to finally provide an adequate, sustainable funding source for the HTF. ASCE strongly supports increasing the federal motor fuels tax a sufficient amount at the federal level to stop the need for general fund transfers and allow for increased investment to close the widening gap. Additionally, ASCE supports the creation of additional pilot programs to test charging motorists based on how much they use roads with the long-term goal of using mileage-based user fees to fund the federal HTF.