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Recent News on the Issues Related to the Highway Trust Fund

This week during comments made in a segment of CBS’s 60 Minutes program, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that he considers finding revenue for a long-term highway bill “critically important” and that lawmakers are looking into raising the money for it through tax changes and other unspecified options. Speaker Boehner was interviewed alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) about policy areas where the Republican leaders will work with or resist President Obama. The CBS reporter noted people at the White House had said “one of the areas they thought there was a chance for progress is on infrastructure in this country; roads and bridges.” Speaker Boehner said, “We agree,” and added “The biggest problem I have is that the Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by gasoline taxes, continues to shrink as cars get more and better mileage standards. And so the money that’s in the Highway Trust Fund isn’t sufficient to meet the infrastructure needs of the country.”

Meanwhile in a January 28 hearing on the next highway and transit bill by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, governors of four states told senators they need certainty about federal spending through a long-term replenishment of the Highway Trust Fund, while Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx urged lawmakers to take “dramatic” action to invest “substantially” more in infrastructure. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said the short-term measures Congress has been passing threaten state planning for construction projects. Secretary Foxx meanwhile pressed lawmakers to go big on transportation funding and said the administration will send Congress “a new and improved” version of the transportation plan it proposed last year, which would use a temporary windfall from repatriated foreign corporate profits to boost spending in many road, transit and rail programs. Last year’s proposal never gained traction in Congress.

On January 26, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the Highway Trust Fund faces a 10-year shortfall of $168 billion, as projected outlays under road and transit programs outpace its dedicated revenue stream. In the CBO’s year-by-year projection, incoming revenue and interest earnings for the trust fund’s highway account would be $35 billion in most years. The CBO estimated HTF highway spending would rise from $46 billion this year to $50 billion in 2025, for a cumulative deficit of $125 billion. It estimated transit revenue plus interest at $5 billion for most years, while projected spending would rise from $8 billion in 2015 to $10 billion in 2025, leaving a total HTF transit account shortfall of $43 billion.