Members of Congress, Government Officials Push for Transportation Funding Fix

Members of Congress and former transportation officials are pushing for a long-term funding fix for the Highway Trust Fund.

Members of Congress and former transportation officials are pushing for a long-term funding fix for the Highway Trust Fund.

Although Congress passed a five-year, $305 billion highway bill in December, the FAST Act contained a piecemeal approach to funding using federal dollars from other non-transportation accounts. The FAST Act included such pay-fors as liquidating a portion of the Federal Reserve surplus and selling off 66 million barrels of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve rather than sustainable sources of transportation funding.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the HTF will need an additional $100 billion to remain solvent through 2025. 

Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Highways and Transit Subcommittee Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and ranking member Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) recently urged members of the House Ways and Means Committee to include a long-term revenue fix for the Highway Trust Fund as the Committee works on a tax reform blueprint in coming months.

In a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee, Reps. Graves and Holmes Norton said Congress needs to consider funding mechanisms other than raising the gas tax to fund infrastructure projects. “The gas tax is a repressive way of doing this because we got cars on the road that are much more efficient than they were years before and then we also have cars that simply aren’t paying any gas tax – alternative fuel cars,” Rep. Graves said.

Rep. Graves recently told a stakeholder group that all funding options must be considered and that “everything’s on the table” including tolling, vehicle miles traveled and a tire tax.

Rep. Graves has publicly expressed support for taxing vehicle miles traveled, arguing that it “probably has the most promise.” He noted that implementation possibilities include GPS tracking, paying a flat fee or a yearly tax based on the difference in odometer readings. 

Former U.S. Department of Transportation officials are also weighing in on the problem. Speaking in Washington, D.C., former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently urged the next president and Congress to move quickly to develop a multibillion-dollar infrastructure stimulus package funded by increased fuel taxes.

In response, Former Transportation Secretary James Burnley said the proposal was disconnected from political reality, however. Burnley said that even if the gas tax were doubled, it wouldn’t close the shortfall between available funding in the HTF and the national needs. 

Like Congressman Grave’s approach, Burnley suggested that the federal government work with state officials to take an “all of the above” approach that would consider multiple ideas and not focus on raising fuel taxes. “If we are narrow-minded in our approach to this issue and we just talk about gas taxes and diesel taxes, we simply won’t get there,” he said.

Meanwhile, former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said the next administration should consider more clearly defining the federal role in the decision-making process for state and local infrastructure funding. Peters thinks that once the federal government's responsibilities are clarified, it will be easier for federal lawmakers to determine how they can help meet the nation's infrastructure needs.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is promising to submit an infrastructure proposal to Congress during her first 100 days in office, if elected.  Her campaign says that in the coming weeks, Clinton will offer new infrastructure investment proposals. 

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