Sen. Boxer (D-CA) speaks out on highway fund

October 22, 2014

Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, announced in a recent letter that salvaging the Highway Trust Fund is a major focus of her office, reports the blog Better Roads. Boxer, in a letter addressed to Congressman Dave Camp, Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, and Congressman Sander Levin, reads, “Although Congress passed a short-term Highway Trust Fund patch and an extension of our surface transportation programs in MAP-21 through May 31, 2015, the longer we wait to find a long-term funding solution for our critical infrastructure the worse it will be.”


With the Senate paralyzed, it’s hard to say what Senator Boxer can actually accomplish by working on the Highway Trust Fund. Image from Martin Fisch.

As we’ve blogged about before, the Highway Trust Fund was developed in 1956 to support the U.S. Interstate Highway System. It’s been funded by a federal tax on diesel fuel and gasoline, but the Fund is constantly approaching insolvency. The short term “patch” Boxer refers to is a $10.8 billion bill that temporarily prevented the Fund’s bankruptcy in the summer, allowing funding for road, highway and bridge construction projects to continue with funding through May of next year.

Yet Boxer and others are concerned about the long-term health of the Fund. Some of the options Boxer has addressed include corporate tax reform, raising the gas tax to account for inflation, and replacing the per-gallon tax on fuel with a wholesale sales tax. In her letter, Boxer continued, “Our economy depends on safe and efficient transportation systems, and yet our roads and bridges are falling apart. Our states, our cities, our drivers, our workers — everyone is counting on us to maintain and improve our highways, bridges and transit systems over the long haul.”

“The Highway Trust Fund is a problem that can be solved, and this Congress must uphold its responsibility to come up with a sustainable funding solution. We cannot afford to wait for action until the deadline which falls at the beginning of the critical summer construction season, or to kick the can down the road any longer.” Boxer may have borrowed that expression from President Obama, who criticized the House’s short-term patch as “kicking the can down the road for a few months, careening from crisis to crisis when it comes to something as basic as our infrastructure” back in July when it was passed.

Politicians can’t seem to agree on the best way to finance the Fund. The gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993; as the Los Angeles Times notes, if adjusted for inflation, the 18.4 cents-per-gallon tax would today be raised to 29 cents-per-gallon. Additionally, cars have become more gas-efficient over the years, leading to a decline in revenue from the tax. (States can assign their own fuel tax. In Boxer’s home state of California, the fuel tax is 39.5 cents per gallon.)

What’s next? Boxer’s letter may be clear, but there seems to be no obvious resolution in sight. Republicans are fervently opposed to raising the gax tax, and there is no current bipartisan agreement on an alternative option. Learn more about the state of the Fund online at the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund Ticker site.

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Category: Infrastructure, Legislation

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