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If you’ve been following the construction industry news, you are no doubt aware that the Highway Trust Fund is going broke. If you supply products to DOTs, this issue could potentially hit you right in the pocketbook. Originally created to fund the construction of the interstate highway system, the Highway Trust Fund remains the backbone of the nation’s surface transportation system. The fund gets its money from a federal fuel tax of 18.3 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel and related excise taxes.
Those tax rates have been in place since 1993. If you think back 20 years, the vehicles we drove then were gas guzzlers compared to what we’re driving now, and that’s why the fund is in trouble. At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, less gas consumed means less funding, and on a national scale that means big problems for the Highway Trust Fund.
There are three ways Congress can fix this problem. Increase the gas tax, raid the treasury to deposit money into the trust fund account or pass a long-term transportation bill that addresses the issue. Increasing the tax in an election year is pretty much a non-starter, so that’s not likely to happen. Simply transferring money into the trust fund is a Band-Aid approach that has been used before, but only delays the inevitable insolvency discussion for a short-term period. We need a long-term approach.
So let’s fix it. There are hopeful signs that maybe this time we can get it done. Bill Shuster, the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is working hard to get a bill done. The Senate has signaled that it is open to a bipartisan approach on an issue of vital importance to both parties. A modern transportation system is critical to the ongoing health of our economy and the safety of our citizens. We’re running on fumes now, and it’s time for all sides to put partisan differences to rest to figure out a way to fill up the tank.
Brent Dezember, Chairman, National Precast Concrete Association