'Our roads need the money'

Larry Flynn / December 28, 2000

By an overwhelming margin (284-143), on April 17, the House of Representatives'
passed the Truth in Budgeting Act. Although the bill faces stiff opposition
in the Senate and is not being endorsed by Secretary of Transportation Federico
Peña, or any member of the Clinton Administration, House passage
of the bill puts the Highway Trust Fund, and the other transportation trust
funds, one step closer to being taken off budget.

Currently, the trust funds are included as part of the unified federal budget.
The balance of the transportation trust funds-$30 billion-is used to offset
the federal deficit. By counting the trust funds as an asset, the deficit
is made to appear less than it really is. And, even though the $20 billion
that is in the Highway Trust Fund can only be used for transportation projects,
the fund is treated as if it were any other general-fund program in that
it is subjected to the same budgetary constraints.

The Highway Trust Fund is not like any other general-fund program. Motorists,
highway users, fund the trust fund through gas taxes they pay at the fuel
pump when they use their vehicles. The tax that is paid by highway users
is supposed to fund transportation improvements. Instead, the trust fund
is being used as an illusion to paint a rosier picture of the deficit situation,
while the nation's road system crumbles before our eyes.

Leading the push for the House vote, the result of a two-year-plus effort,
was Bud Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure
Committee. According to the AASHTO Journal, following the vote, Shuster
also credited former committee leaders, including former chairmen Norman
Mineta (D-Calif.) and the late James Howard (D-N.J.).

The bill went to the floor with support from 224 co-sponsors. Kudos to the
Truth in Budgeting Alliance, chaired by Pete Ruane, president of the American
Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), for its work in
rallying support for the bill. In addition to ARTBA, alliance members included
organizations such as the Construction Industry Manufacturers Association
(CIMA), The Road Information Program (TRIP) and the American Highway Users
Alliance (AHUA).

Highway-industry organizations were not the only industry voices being heard.
Individual companies were raising their voices, as well. Carl Roemmele,
president and CEO of Diamant Boart Investments Inc., Kansas City, Mo., a
producer of diamond-tipped industrial tools, said, "The money is not
being released at a rate sufficient to repair and maintain America's roads
and bridges. Our infrastructure is breaking down faster than we're fixing
it. Instead of spending money where it's needed, to repair and maintain
America's infrastructure, the government is holding the money hostage to
make it look like the federal deficit is lower than it really is. That's
not acceptable."

Perhaps Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP, summed up the situation
in the most succinct manner possible when he told ROADS & BRIDGES, "Why
take the Highway Trust Fund off budget? Because our roads need the money."

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