Op-Ed: Stop Letting Alternative Transportation Slice from the Highway Trust Fund Pie

A Congressional bill has been introduced to "provide a long term solution" to the transportation funding problem by eliminating spending on transit, biking, and local projects rather than finding funding to maintain $50 billion in annual spending.
June 19, 2015, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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In a Cincinnati Enquirer op-ed, Rep. Thomas Massie, a Tea Party Republican from Garrison, Ky, understands the transportation funding problem:

Inflation and vehicle fuel efficiency have drained the fund so that it no longer generates enough revenue to pay for all the improvements necessary to ensure that our highways and bridges are safe and adequately maintained.

His solution: Stop "diverting" funds to non-highway spending such as "bike paths, sidewalks, mass transit and other purely local projects." To that end, he has introduced the "Developing Roadway Infrastructure for a Vibrant Economy Act or DRIVE Act (H.R. 1461) [which] would ensure that money in the Highway Trust Fund is actually spent on highways."

Each year, approximately $9 billion in the Highway Trust Fund goes to the Mass Transit Account, which funds local public transportation projects, including subways, light rail, buses and streetcars. 

I wonder if Massie knows that it was President Ronald Reagan who "broadened the use of gas taxes to fund public transit by establishing a Mass Transit Account in the Highway Trust Fund" in 1982 as noted in a post about a new report on that landmark legislation that also more than doubled the gas tax. [For more information on this account, see page 16, TRANSIT FUNDING SOURCES in APTA Primer on Transit Funding, FY 2004 Through FY 2012, (PDF).]

Of course, he'll need to find more than $9 billion to cut if he wants to make the fund sustainable as the current shortfall is $16 billion, according to Laura Barron-Lopez and Keith Laing of The Hill, and as Massie himself notes, it's only going to grow due to inflation and increased vehicle fuel efficiency that results in decreased gas tax revenue.

But it's not just mass transit that Massie wants to cut:

Current federal law also allows the money in this trust fund to go toward sidewalks and bike paths. While I recognize the value of sidewalks and buses, taxing gasoline and routing that money through Washington is not the way to fund these inherently local projects.

The bill is the second that would scale-back functions of the Highway Trust Fund. The most drastic is the Transportation Empowerment Act, by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), S.1541, and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), H.R. 2716. The bills would gradually eliminate the federal gas tax and transfer responsibility to the states, a process known as devolution.

Massie's bill is less extreme in that it preserves the 18.4 cents gas tax, unchanged since President Clinton increased it by 4.3 cents in 1993, though initially to help balance the budget. He notes that the current patch bill funding federal transportation spending expires at the end of July, and then Congress will have to address the funding problem again.

My DRIVE Act is one such long-term solution. Rather than increase the current 18.4-cent fuel tax for the Highway Trust Fund, we should first restore the fund to its original purpose. Support for my bill is growing, and co-sponsors include Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Dave Brat of Virginia, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Ken Buck of Colorado, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina.

Hat tip: Chris CurranOhio Chapter Sierra Club.

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Published on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 in Cincinnati Enquirer
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