The more things change, the more they stay the same. When it comes to funding the Highway Trust Fund, that old adage is unfortunately only too true.
Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, so I’m not sure what Congress is doing while our highways, bridges, and entire transportation infrastructure continue to crumble. Our industry has been pushing for a long-term fix to the Highway Trust Fund for years, yet once again, we have to settle for a short-term solution. Bill Graves, President and CEO of ATA, said, “The trucking industry moves nearly 70% of our nation’s freight tonnage and pays for nearly half of the Highway Trust Fund, so we have a lot of skin in this game.”
So once again, at the 11th hour, the House passed another short-term, two-month fix to the Highway Trust Fund, which was due to run out of money by the end of this month. Without the passage of this extension, road construction projects would have been put on hold and close to 700,000 jobs would have been lost. But the short-term fixes don’t really solve the problem, since states are reluctant to work on the largest infrastructure jobs, which take years in planning, without a long-term funding bill.
Although the extension passed with a strong 387 to 35 vote, July 31 will be here before you know it. Will we be further along in approving a long-term bill or back to another extension? There are ways of funding that involves additional taxes; however, Graves pointed out that trucking is “willing to pay more at the pump to help Congress get a long-term solution for our infrastructure across the finish line in 2015.” Trucking already pays $16.5 billion in federal highway user fees, notes an article in Truckinginfo.com; yet the industry has made it clear that raising the primary user fee – the fuel tax – is fine as long as the funds are used for projects that reduce congestion, improve capacity and efficiency, and of course, create jobs.
So a short-term extension is better than nothing…and if it gives the Congress the time necessary to sign a long-term funding bill, then fine. Graves says it much better than I can, “Congress has kicked the can down the road – a congested road marked with potholes, mind you – so often the can is dented beyond recognition. This must end.”