The federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for many of the transportation infrastructure projects across the country, is running on fumes. And although it appears Congress is set to pass a short-term patch to shore up the fund, with the White House’s reluctant support, a longer-term solution is needed.
A House bill passed Tuesday would allow for infrastructure projects that would’ve been halted Aug. 1 around the country to continue for eight months by moving $10.8 billion into the fund through a variety of measures, including pension tax reform and customs fees.
Still on the table is a bipartisan proposal by Connecticut Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy and Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, to raise the gas tax. That plan might make trips to the pumps more painful, but it is a responsible solution to a growing problem that has had too many short-term patches over the past 20 years.
The Murphy-Corker plan calls for a federal tax increase of 12 cents over the next two years. The levy would then be tied to inflation going forward. It would allow ongoing projects to continue and fund the much-needed repairs to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, Murphy said.
The federal gas tax, currently 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn’t been raised since 1993. As a result, the highway fund receives $18 million in funding each year, but the government borrows money for the $36 billion it pays out.
We agree with Murphy that it is time to stop leveraging our nation’s future by borrowing to fund infrastructure work. Something has to change, but with the current climate in Congress, it will be difficult for the plan to go through.
A gas tax increase could be a major win for Connecticut, which historically receives $1.64 for every $1 paid into the highway fund, according to Murphy.
In Vermont, the situation is similar.
Brian Searles, the secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Transportation, said if Congress doesn’t act before the August recess, the state will have to use temporary funding to cover the cost of its current projects. VTDigger.org reported that State Treasurer Beth Pearce has authorized up to $15 million in state funds to cover delayed reimbursement costs associated with the federal slowdown in funding from the Highway Trust Fund.
If Congress fails to act, more than 3,000 Vermont jobs will be in jeopardy and 1,353 active highway and transit projects will be slowed or halted, according to a White House report released Monday.
The report found that 41 percent of Connecticut’s roads are in poor condition, the highest percentage in the nation.
By comparison, the report found that 14 percent of Vermont’s 14,290 miles of roads are in poor condition.
The plan is also, as Murphy admits, a medium-term fix. As people drive less and fuel economy improves, the gas tax will continue to become more irrelevant. If we raise the gas tax, we must also commit to studying alternatives, so we don’t find ourselves back in this same hole in 20 years.
Other ways to fund infrastructure improvements, including tolls on federal interstates and a tax based on vehicle miles traveled have proved to be unpopular or ineffective, or will take far too long to implement. The need for costly repairs and upgrades to our transportation system cannot wait that long.
The gas tax, for now, is our best bet to dig ourselves out of this hole.
~New Haven Register