Foxx: Time running out for new highway bill

Anne Wernikoff

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Tuesday that time is quickly running out for Congress to approve a new round of road and transit funding. 

Foxx said the latest projections from budget analysts show that the transportation department’s Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August, a full month before the scheduled expiration of federal transportation funding. 

"Today, as we've been doing each month since January, the Department of Transportation updated our Highway Trust Fund tickers,” Foxx wrote in a blog post on the DOT’s website. 

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“The tickers are charts showing how much money we have left to spend on roads, bridges, and transit --and how quickly it is running out,” he continued. “If you've been reading the Fast Lane this spring, you know that our budget analysts have projected a shortfall in the Highway Account before we reach the end of this fiscal year.” 

Foxx said the DOT’s latest analysis confirmed earlier reports that the agency will not have enough money to pay for transportation projects beyond the end of the summer. 

“So far, all of their monthly predictions have been on target, and this month was no different,” he said. “Unfortunately, that accuracy is not good news, because it means we're still expecting a shortfall as early as August.” 

Foxx has been pushing lawmakers to approve a four-year, $302 billion transportation bill that has been suggested by President Obama before the projected bankruptcy in federal infrastructure funding occurs. 

The current federal transportation funding bill is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30. 

Lawmakers are struggling to find a way to close a shortfall in transportation funding that is estimated to be as high as $15 billion before the Department of Transportation runs out of money for its Highway Trust Fund, however. 

The traditional source for transportation funding is revenue that is collected by the federal gas tax, which is currently 18.4 cents per gallon. The tax only brings is about $34 billion per year, however, and the current level of transportation spending infrastructure advocates want lawmakers to maintain is about $50 billion annually.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has projected that lawmakers will have to find an extra $100 billion in addition to the gas tax revenue to pay for a new six-year transportation bill. 

Transportation advocates have pushed Transportation Congress to increase the gas tax for the first time in two decades to close the gap, but most lawmakers have been reluctant to raise taxes in the middle of an election year. 

Foxx and President Obama has recommended that lawmakers use approximately $150 billion from closing corporate tax loopholes to help pay for the new infrastructure spending, however. 

The corporate tax reform proposal is considered unlikely to be approved and lawmakers in both chambers have begun exploring other funding options. 

Foxx said Tuesday that Obama’s proposal “outlines a way to replenish the trust fund and revitalize our transportation system—without adding to our deficit,” however.

“The updated Highway Trust Fund tickers we published today are a reminder that Congress needs to fix the highway trust fund before it runs dry,” he wrote. “In a challenging legislative environment, that doesn't give us a lot of time.”