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Surface Transportation Funding

This August, the Highway Trust Fund teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. If Congress didn’t act swiftly, the Trust Fund – which finances interstates, roads, and transit systems – would slip into insolvency, leaving states unable to plan future projects or simply repair crumbling transit systems, roads, and bridges. And now, yet again, we are right back where we started. At the end of this May, the Trust Fund is set to go broke and Congress appears poised to repeat the mistakes of the past.

This is no accident. Since 1993, politicians have failed to raise the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax, which finances the Trust Fund, and allowed it to be eroded by inflation. This timid approach to legislating has left the country unable to cover the costs of planning and maintaining a transportation system, as the structural deficiencies in transportation funding force the nation to drift from one crisis to another.

With an eye to ending this model of governing by crisis, this August TTD and our member unions pushed back against efforts to kick the can down the road. Instead, we strongly supported a short-term funding extension passed by the U.S. Senate. This bill would have kept the Trust Fund solvent, allowed the federal government to fulfill its commitments to reimburse the states for transportation needs, and, crucially, would have given Congress the opportunity to finish a long-term, bipartisan reauthorization bill during the 113th Congress.

Regrettably, the House of Representatives refused to consider this bill, and with mere hours remaining before the Trust Fund would no longer be able to meet all of its obligations, Congress passed H.R. 5021, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014. This act ensured that the Highway Trust Fund would remain solvent, but was little more than a short-term patch – it only authorized $11 billion, enough to get the Fund through May of this year, at which time Congress will be faced with another funding crisis and no solution for the long-term viability of the Highway Trust Fund.

As we predicted, the long-term extension did nothing to summon new wisdom or courage on how to fix our depleted transportation system. With the May deadline little more than 2 months away, Congress has made no progress on the hard decisions regarding how to fund our transportation programs. As the clock ticks, they appear set to rehearse the past and pass yet another extension, robbing states and localities of planning certainty and American workers of jobs.

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave U.S. roads and transit a D, with our bridges just barely doing better with a C+. Our surface transportation is underfunded, in poor condition, and insufficient to meet current transportation demands. We need a long term funding solution that will allow states to plan and invest in the projects they need to properly modernize their infrastructure; we need the jobs that such funding will create.

This February, TTD and our unions affirmed eight principles for an effective long-term surface transportation reauthorization. We call for a reauthorization bill that:

  1. Expands highway and transit funding with a gas tax increase.
  2. Embraces only those innovative finance tools that honor worker protections and do not harm private and public sector jobs.
  3. Rejects senseless devolution proposals and efforts to kill the Mass Transit Account.
  4. Restores federal neutrality on transit privatization and rejects unwanted contracting out mandates.
  5. Advances transit driver and passenger safety and health reforms.
  6. Permits limited authority to flex federal bus capital funds to transit operations.
  7. Provides resources for the execution of a national freight investment policy.
  8. Protects and enhances Buy America policies to boost U.S. manufacturing.

Together with our affiliated unions, TTD continues to fight for this long-term solution.