Talking Asphalt: Fix the Highway Trust Fund mess – June 2014

I’m going to vent a little bit this month. I started to write about the impending Federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) shortfall, and I will get to that. But, then that got me thinking about our political climate.

I live in Kentucky and we had an election last month. I left the voting booth thinking that I had not cast my votes for leaders. At best, I might have chosen representatives. But, then, I no longer believe that most elected officials, particularly at the national level, represent or respect my interests or values.

As I was thinking about who to vote for (or more honestly, who I would vote against) I read a poll in our local paper asking something like, “If given the opportunity, would you throw out the current Congress (all Washington senators and representatives) and start over?”  62 percent said “start over.”  I’m surprised that it wasn’t higher.

Well, on to the Highway Trust Fund. To cut to the chase, it’s about out of money. And I don’t see a lot being done about it. There’s some noise but it seems it’s still mostly politics, to me.

Maybe, some background is in order. From the FHWA Office of Highway Policy Information website, I found the following description of how the HTF works:

“Receipts into the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) come from a variety of taxes on highway fuel, tires, heavy vehicle use tax, truck/trailer sales taxes. The motor fuel excise tax, currently 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline/gasohol, and 24.4 cents for special fuel (primarily diesel) raises the majority of the revenue. This revenue is then placed into the Highway Trust fund by the U.S. Treasury Department, after collection by the Internal Revenue Service. These funds are then distributed to the States based on formulas provided in Federal legislation.”

The problem is that the HTF balance is not keeping up with the needs. The funding rate has not increased since 1993, and construction and maintenance costs have increased substantially, while we drive fewer miles in more fuel-efficient vehicles. Additionally, there have been several attempts by individual members of Congress to suspend the federal gas tax. From 2008 to 2010, Congress has had to transfer $35 billion from the general fund of the U.S. Treasury to keep the HTF solvent.

So, the HTF is hurting. In January 2012, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the fund’s highway account would become insolvent during 2013. That did not happen, but it seems like it could happen really soon.

I don’t like higher taxes, but we will pay one way or the other. Poor roads and bridges cost us in increased vehicle user costs (repairs, wear-and-tear, increased fuel costs, etc.) The HTF shortfall needs to be addressed. There are numerous means of contacting your elected representatives, I suggest you do.

We need the House, Senate and White House to work together to fix this situation. Otherwise, I’m voting to “throw them out and start over.”