Congress must act to renew the Highway Trust Fund

The shenanigans in Washington have reached a new low.  A national transportation system is the one of the few responsibilities delegated to the federal government in the Constitution. Yet, Congress and the president are more interested in political maneuvering, vacations and fundraising than actually tending to their constitutionally appointed duties.

The House has passed a bill to fund the Highway Trust Fund through May. However, the Senate has refused to even take up the bill for consideration.  The Senate claims the president will veto the legislation because it doesn’t extend the funding for long enough – Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are advocating a plan to fund the Highway Trust Fund only through December in order to advance their plans for an increase in gas taxes in January.

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Free Congress Foundation is a leader in advocating sound transportation policy. In June we put forth multiple options for funding transportation in our fourth transportation conference. All options were on the table. But finding compromise between Democrats and Republicans in Washington to move transportation in the U.S. remains a much greater challenge.  Democrats seem to be setting the stage for more tax increases.  Republicans do not seem to acknowledge the importance of transportation and roads for economic growth.

Let me be clear, first and foremost, Congress must act now to renew the Highway Trust Fund. Allowing the Fund to go bankrupt is not an option that any American should find acceptable.  Bankrupting the Highway Trust Fund is not only bad economic policy it will also put undue financial burden on states to repair and maintain highways further stressing the budgets of states already struggling with record unemployment, health care expansion costs and ever expanding costs of Medicaid. 

Second, Congress must work to find a long-term compromise for transportation funding. An increase in gas taxes or implementing a mileage tax is not only unacceptable it is also unrealistic. Congress will not secure successful passage of such extreme tax increases in the current political climate.

I believe it is necessary to further evaluate the funding options presented by the use of toll roads and hot lanes.  Small tolls on congested highways would present a long term funding source that might draw bi-partisan support.  Small tolls would provide a means for funding the federal highway system over the long term.  Tolling is the only feasible form of funding that would accommodate the demands of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

But one thing is clear – Congress must act now to renew funding for the Highway Trust Fund before it goes bankrupt later this month (confirm data). A modern national transportation system is essential for economic growth and job creation in the United States.  Congress cannot continue to neglect one of their constitutionally mandated responsibilities. States should not continue to bear the burden for this Congressional incompetence.

Gilmore was governor of Virginia from 1998 to 2002 and chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2001-2002. He is currently tpresident of the Free Congress Foundation.