Tuesday, 9 September 2008
For the last couple of years the experts (the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget, no less) have been telling us that the federal Highway Trust Fund is going to be in the red at the end of Fiscal Year 2008 and that Congress must do something to make up the needed $8 billion or else states won’t get their budgeted funds. Well guess what folks, by my count, the end of FY 2008 is in exactly three weeks, and we’re only slightly closer to a solution than we were a year ago.
The House this summer passed a stand-alone bill that makes up for a 1998 transfer of (coincidentally) $8 billion out of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), but so far numerous attempts to attach the Trust Fund “Fix” have been unsuccessful in the Senate.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters urged immediate action, “Time and again, the President has warned Congress of the pending shortfall and submitted fiscally prudent budgets to close the gap,” said Secretary Peters. “Americans cannot afford to have Congress play ‘kick the can’ with highway funding for another year, another month, or frankly, another week.” She also renewed her call to pass this legislation and make sure previously planned projects get the funding they deserve.
ASCE supports the Highway Trust Fund Fix and is urging its members to contact their legislators and ask them to move the bill. The Transportation Construction Coalition has a state-by-state listing of lost projects and jobs if we fail to pass this legislation on its website. To send your Senator a message about the Trust Fund Fix, visit ASCE’s Advocacy Website.
While informal polling and behind the scenes rumors signal that generally the overwhelming majority of the Senate supports this legislation, it is stalled due to the objections of a few members. Notably, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) has said he opposes taking money from the General Fund to give to transportation and instead suggests taking the money from the Federal Transit Trust Fund. ASCE strongly opposes this plan, as the rising fuel prices which have depleted the HTF have also led to record use of transit in the last year.
So the choice is pretty clear, either they do nothing, and all the planned road improvements and congestion easements in your community are put on hold for yet another year, or your already over-crowded bus or train gets a service cut back. Both are bad options, the only sure success is to replace the $8 billion and get through this year until Congress passes a new surface transportation bill. So, it’s pay now, or keep waiting.