Highway Trust Fund Expiration Pushed Back to July or August

Congress just got one or two months of extra breathing room to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent. Heretofore the patch bill was said to exhaust its funding on May 31, but the new word from Transportation Secretary Foxx is that it will be later.
April 6, 2015, 6am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Keith Laing of The Hill reports that the "Transportation Department (DOT) would have a cushion of about two months if Congress misses the [May 31] deadline, but after that he said the agency would have to start cutting off payments to state and local governments," according to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The current patch bill, which passed on July 31 last year just before Congress left Washington, D.C. to return to their districts for five weeks, expires on May 31. The bill had been described as providing funding for only ten months.

"There will still be funding available through probably late July or early August," [Foxx] said of the Transportation Department's Highway Trust Fund"But probably in the July timeframe, we would have to start to go into cash management," Foxx continued. "That's the score as I see it."

That's good news also for state departments of transportation that have already begun to pare back on transportation projects due to uncertainty of federal payments come June 1.

Georgia, which just approved a bill to increase transportation revenues by $900 million to $1 billion annually, "is also delaying $715 million worth of projects from its 2015 program due to uncertainty over when the federal share of funds would be available as bills come due on federal-aid highway projects," according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

The winter storms may have delayed reimbursements to state DOTs, suggested Fox as the cause for the extra time.

Congress has several options to consider, among them:

  • Approve President Obama's $478 billion transportation bill to fund the Grow America Act.
  • Congress could find "about $100 billion in additional revenue to fund a six-year transportation bill that virtually everyone considers ideal," wrote Ashley Halsey III (and posted here), who reports on national and local transportation for The Washington Post. "Bumping up diesel by 15 cents a gallon and gas [tax] by 10 cents would raise an estimated $120 billion to fund a six-year bill."
  • Continue funding through patch bills, i.e., find short term funding which would mean more general fund transfers to the Highway Trust Fund, now measured by the Bipartisan Policy Center as "roughly $70 billion since 2008."

On that last option, "Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says he is open to a short-term patch for the Highway Trust Fund, but only if lawmakers are going to use that extra time to reach agreement on a long-term fix," write Jennifer Scholtes and Heather Caygle of Politico Morning Transportation on April 3.

I'm concerned if the effort is to continue a spate of short-term extensions," he told reporters on Thursday. "If, on the other hand, there's a purpose in it that's tied to getting a long-term bill, I think that's a different situation."

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, April 2, 2015 in The Hill
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