On Tuesday, July 15th, the House voted (367-55) to approve a $10.8 billion temporary patch to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through May 2015. The bill has garnered the support of the Obama Administration and now requires Senate action. A similar bill is pending in the Senate and Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed the Senate will vote on the House bill this month.
Wisconsin U.S. Reps. Reid Ribble and Jim Sensenbrenner were two of the 55 members of the House of Representatives to vote against the bill. Ribble, a Transportation Committee member, said, “Congress missed an opportunity today [and] chose to kick the can down the road. I could not in good conscience support this ‘punt’ that sets up another manufactured crisis in a few months instead of fixing this problem once and for all.”
Absent congressional action the Transportation Department has indicated that, beginning August 1, 2014, they would not have enough money in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to meet aid commitments to the states. If Congress fails to act, the U.S. DOT estimates a 28% reduction in state aid and a corresponding impact on 117,000 ongoing transportation projects and 700,000 related construction jobs.
While the stakes are high, the predicament is not new. Congress has kept the HTF on the brink of bankruptcy since 2008 through a series of temporary fixes. Congress has been unable to find a politically acceptable long-term funding plan despite a growing consensus that a long term solvency fix is needed.
Opposition to increasing the federal gas tax ––– the main funding source for the HTF, which is set at 18.4 cent-per-gallon and has not been increased since 1993 ––– continues to weigh heavily in the debate over a long-term fix.
In addition to the 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gas tax, each state has its own gas tax to fund state and local transportation funding. The graph obtained from Vox that can be seen below, shows a state by state comparison in gas taxes.
In July, Governor Walker announced that all transportation payments were made to Wisconsin’s local units for this quarter. Currently, Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb is searching for solutions to the projected $600-$700 million shortfall in the state transportation budget for the 2015-2017 budget.