Highway and transportation officials nationwide face white-knuckle time in coming weeks as Congress and the Obama administration try to find a way to keep the Federal Highway Trust Fund solvent.
The fund, which is fed by an 18.4 cents- per-gallon federal fuel tax, faces insolvency in mid-to-late summer because demands of construction and maintenance from states like Mississippi outstrip revenue.
If there’s blame to assign, it is fuel efficiency of the cars and trucks using highways, which means the tax revenue is either flat or declining.
At the same time, costs to build and maintain highways for an ever-increasing number of vehicles go up.
A bipartisan Senate proposal emerged Wednesday to rescue federal transportation funding, and by reimbursement formula, all states. It would raise the tax on gasoline and diesel by 12 cents a gallon.
The proposal to raise the 18.4-cents federal tax for the first time since 1993 came from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and won quick endorsement from an array of advocates ranging from road builders to AAA.
The proposal, it should be noted, is bipartisan in large measure because highways are a non-partisan necessity nationwide.
The two senators’ plan would increase the tax by 6 cents in each of the next two years, and importantly index the rate to inflation. Failure to keep pace with inflation over the past 20 years, along with steadily increasing fuel economy, is the cause of the trust fund’s dangerously low balance.
It is always popular in both parties to look somewhere besides taxation when money is needed for necessities, but sometimes additional taxation that is fair, essential and carefully crafted is the best choice. As with all other government programs of similar magnitude, whether state or federal, nothing is free.
The Hill reported that the fuel levy has been outpaced by infrastructure expenses by as much as $20 billion per year as cars get better gas mileage and U.S. residents drive less frequently than previous generations.
It has projected a loss of 700,000 jobs if the trust fund dries up – and the vast majority of those jobs will be in the private sector and considered local because the money in salaries flows directly into a community and state economy.
On this issue we hope the Mississippi delegation – both senators and all four representatives – find a unified voice to prevent a policy-budget-work disaster affecting everybody in short order.