Responding to complaints by appropriators and budget-writers regarding the practice of "guaranteeing" highway, transit and highway safety spending levels, leaders of the House Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines told colleagues, "Using dedicated user fees for transportation is a simple matter of fairness and honesty in government."
Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) and Ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said in an April 6 letter, "The idea of guaranteeing levels of spending for highways, transit and highway safety programs is not a new one. This battle was decided nearly 10 years ago when Highway Trust Fund spending had long been suppressed in annual appropriations acts to either pay for other programs or mask the size of the deficit. In 1998 Congress voted overwhelmingly in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century [TEA-21] to put the 'trust' back in the Highway Trust Fund by creating budgetary firewalls and spending guarantees. SAFETEA-LU continues this practice."
Their letter continued: "The reason that highway, transit and highway safety programs have been granted special budgetary consideration is because this spending is supported by fuel taxes and other taxes paid by the users of the highways. In 1956 the Highway Trust Fund was created and funded though highway user fees. This 'user pay' principle is unique and is the main reason why Highway Trust Fund dollars can be used only for highway, transit and highway safety programs. These programs produce a return on the investment made by highway users by way of reduced congestion, greater mobility and improved highway safety."
They conclude, "We made a commitment to the American public that we would fund the improvements they paid for at the gas pump. Using dedicated user fees for transportation is a simple matter of fairness and honesty in government. That is the difference."