Who Cares About the Highway Trust Fund?

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) is proposing today to make a small but crucial change in federal transit policy by requiring the nation’s Highway Trust Fund to keep the interest money it accrues, rather than give it up for the government’s general use.

ga_rep_john_lewis.jpgRep. John Lewis (D-GA) Photo: politicalkudzu.com.

Which brings up an even more crucial question: Why is it a good thing to give the Highway Trust Fund more cash?

For starters, the name of the 53-year-old fund is pretty misleading. Funded by the 18-cent-per-gallon gas tax, the highway trust fund (HTF) provides money not only for new roads, but also for mass transit.

Though public transportation receives a criminally paltry 2.86-cent share of gas tax proceeds, the HTF accounts for about 80 percent of the government’s total spending on mass transit. Strange as it sounds, then, keeping the HTF fiscally healthy is an important first step in giving Washington’s transportation policy a much-needed 21st-century shakeup.

In fact, the mass transit account of the HTF is at risk of exhaustion by 2012 — and that still puts it in better shape than the general highways account, which faces insolvency as soon as this fall.

Lewis’ bill would keep all transportation money from being diverted to patch other budget needs, thus strengthening the mass transit account and increasing the likelihood that the HTF funding crisis doesn’t scare Congress into postponing the entire debate over federal transportation reauthorization.

In short, the more quarters that can be scrounged from between the nation’s couch cushions for the HTF, the more likely we are to see a congressional transportation bill that reorders the nation’s priorities to reflect 21st-century reality.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

Six Lies the GOP Is Telling About the House Transportation Bill

|
The transportation-plus-drilling bill that John Boehner and company are trying to ram through the House is an attack on transit riders, pedestrians, cyclists, city dwellers, and every American who can’t afford to drive everywhere. Under this bill, all the dedicated federal funding streams for transit, biking, and walking would disappear, leading to widespread service cuts […]

Bush Admin Wants to Rob Transit to Pay for Highways

|
Construction projects like these additions to San Antonio’s I-410 may stop short without an infusion of cash. On Wednesday, Mobilizing the Region called attention to the Bush Administration’s proposed 2009 transportation budget. While New York City stands to get welcome earmarks for projects like the Second Avenue Subway, the big picture is more sobering. The […]
STREETSBLOG USA

Ranking the Sad Parade of Federal Transpo Funding Ideas From Worst to Best

|
The problem seems simple enough: The federal transportation program is going broke because Washington has allowed the gas tax to be eroded by inflation for more than 20 years. As obvious as raising the gas tax may be, America’s political leaders won’t touch it. Yesterday, The Hill reported that Congressman Bill Shuster, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is ruling out […]

House Transpo Leaders and Obama DOT Run Off in Opposite Directions

|
The conflicted state of federal transportation policy-making was on vivid display today, as House lawmakers pressed ahead on a $500 billion bill that still lacks a funding source while the Obama administration scrambled to find $20 billion for a bailout of the highway trust fund. Members of the famously bipartisan House transportation committee lined up […]

LaHood Vows to Avert Federal Transpo Bankruptcy and Pay For It

|
The Obama administration is working on a plan to fill the shortfall in the nation’s highway trust fund by August without adding to the federal deficit, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Congress today. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (Photo: HillBuzz) The circumstances behind the trust fund’s financial troubles are well-known: a nationwide decline in driving coupled […]