"The Next Shutdown?"
Congress Must Avoid Another Manufactured Crisis And Extend The Highway Trust Fund
Unless Congress acts to extend the Highway Trust Fund before the August recess, we will be facing not a government shutdown but a construction shutdown that threatens hundreds of thousands of jobs.
As we have written before, the Highway Trust Fund provides the overwhelming majority of transportation funding to fix roads, bridges, and railroads. It’s income is generated from a federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel. Why is it running out? It’s been 20 years since that tax has been increased, and a combination of inflation, better fuel efficiency, and reduced driving have substantially reduced the amount the gas tax brings into the HTF and has threatened its solvency as a result. The Department of Labor has estimated that the fund will be depleted this fall.
Here is what’s at stake: if Congress doesn’t make a fix, more than 1,000 construction projects would be at risk. States would have to scale back their plans to improve transportation, and would lack the certainty of federal transportation funding to be able to plan for the future. Over a hundred thousand roadway projects and 5,600 railway projects could see delays. And above all else, because of this nearly 700,000 jobs would be at risk.
Those are most drastic implications and necessitate immediate action. And now is an especially bad time to cause another manufactured economic crisis. As we found out in last week’s jobs report, our economy is picking up steam that we simply cannot put in jeopardy.
But Congress should do more than just prevent this crisis — it should invest long-term in American infrastructure for a 21st century economy. That would mean taking serious action to address the fact that the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the nation’s infrastructure a ‘D+’. It would mean we could get to work fixing the nearly 8,000 bridges in this country that could collapse at any moment. It would mean investing in 21st-century programs like faster broadband and high-speed rail.
There is a solution out there already: President Obama’s budget calls for a $302 billion investment in infrastructure, a large portion of which would come from closing tax loopholes that benefit special interests. But absent that, we need more than just the temporary, short-term fixes currently being considered. We’ve seen what it is like to ricochet from crisis to crisis: it’s not good for American families, and it’s not good for our economy.
BOTTOM LINE: Sen. Patty Murray, in a speech on the Senate floor, sums it up appropriately: “Families can’t afford to have a few members of Congress putting jobs at risk once again,” she said. “And with the clock winding down, we can’t afford to put this off any longer.” Let’s extend the Highway Trust Fund, invest in our nation’s infrastructure, and keep America working.