“The root of the federal Highway Trust Fund’s (HTF) revenue challenge is not an antiquated gas tax or alternative-fueled vehicles dominating the U.S. automobile fleet or improved fuel economy, but a more direct and obvious flaw: The federal motor fuels tax and other highway user fees have not been adjusted for 20 years.” That’s the key message the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) delivered on April 24 to members of Congress during a House Budget Committee hearing on the state of the HTF.
In written testimony, ARTBA noted 2012’s highway/transit law—MAP-21—had a revenue title that provided no more than a short-term stabilization for the federal surface transportation programs, and within 17 months Congress will once again be faced with the reality of existing revenues being insufficient to maintain investment levels.
“Policy makers will have three straight-forward choices; dramatically cut federal highway and public transportation investment and threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs, continue the recent trend of supplementing trust fund revenues with general funds and, in so doing, add to the deficit, or generate new revenues,” ARTBA said.
ARTBA’s testimony noted the federal government’s responsibility for supporting interstate commerce is clearly laid out in the U.S. Constitution, and the nation’s highway network is the manifestation of such constitutional responsibility in that it facilitates the movement of people and goods between the states.
Addressing the HTF’s shortfall is a “political dilemma, not a structural or functional shortcoming,” according to ARTBA. “There are many viable approaches to generate new revenues to support federal surface transportation investments. House Republicans reinforced this fact in the last Congress when they sought to generate new revenues for the Highway Trust Fund by linking domestic energy exploration with infrastructure investment,” said the group.
The association called on Congress to include a long-term revenue solution to stabilize and grow HTF revenues as part of a comprehensive reform to the U.S. tax code. “Such an action would not only aid in deficit reduction by eliminating the trust fund’s burden on the general fund, but it would support investment in tangible assets that would support economic growth for years to come,” ARTBA said.