Conservative group disputes transportation funding outlook

The conservative Heritage Action foundation is disputing whether there is a transportation funding crisis facing Congress.

Lawmakers have been struggling to come up with a way to prevent the bankruptcy in the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund that Obama administration officials have said will occur next month.

The Heritage Action foundation said in a blog post on its website Wednesday that the alarm was being sounded falsely.

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"In a letter sent to states yesterday, [President] Obama’s transportation secretary Anthony Foxx 'attempted to provides states with the most equitable, straightforward approach possible for managing this crisis,' " Heritage Action Communications Director Dan Holler wrote.

"What exactly is the crisis," Holler continued. "In comments made earlier in the day, Foxx said states will, on average, see a 28 percent reduction in funding from the federal Highway Trust Fund. This figure is shockingly misleading though because the overwhelming majority of highway funding comes from state and local governments, not the federal government."

Both Obama and Foxx have sought this week to heighten awareness about the transportation funding shortfall. Foxx said Tuesday that the transportation department would cut back reimbursements for infrastructure projects to state and local governments if Congress does not act to solve the problem.

However, Holler said Wednesday that the Obama administration was overstating the nature of the transportation funding situation.

"The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) broke down the numbers earlier this year: In 2013, governments at various levels spent $156 billion to build, operate, and maintain highways, and they spent $60 billion on mass transit systems," he wrote. "For both types of infrastructure, most of that spending was by state and local governments; about one-quarter of that total came from the federal government, mostly through the Highway Trust Fund.

"The 28 percent reduction Foxx mentioned is of the federal share, which is about 25 percent," Holler continued. "In other words, the 'crisis' Obama is warning Americans about is a 7 percent reduction in total spending."

Transportation advocates have pushed lawmakers to consider increasing the federal gas tax, which is currently 18.4 cents per gallon, to help pay for the infrastructure projects. The tax has long been the traditional source for filling the Highway Trust Fund, but it has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient.

The current transportation bill that lawmakers are seeking to replace includes approximately $50 billion per year, but the gas tax only brings in about $34 billion annually.

Holler said Wednesday that the federal government does not necessarily have to close the gap.

"America is not facing 'a transportation government shutdown' and lawmakers should stop trying to create an artificial crisis which they can use as an excuse to raise taxes or increase spending," he wrote.