By Dean Franks, vice president of congressional affairs, ARTBA
The Highway Trust Fund’s (HTF) Highway Account remains “in duress” and will dip near the critical $4 billion threshold by Thanksgiving, an unnamed senior U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) official said in a Sept. 9 story in the Capitol Hill publication Politico.
The comment served as a caution to Congress about losing the sense of urgency to fix the HTF following a recent projection showing the account won’t need a cash infusion until next summer.
U.S. DOT considers $4 billion the minimum threshold balance needed to hold off cash flow worries that could lead to rationing reimbursements to states for federal-aid construction work already underway. The agency updated it’s “Highway Trust Fund Ticker” Aug. 20 to reflect the $8.1 billion general fund transfer directed in the latest highway/transit program extension, which was enacted July 31 and expires Oct. 29. The updated numbers project the HTF will tread water until June 30, 2016.
The Aug. 20 announcement has spurred conflicting opinions among Capitol Hill lawmakers. Some say the projection takes the pressure off getting a long-term bill passed this year. Others say Congress must move forward on a long-term bill this year, regardless of the HTF’s state. Either way, the official quoted in Politco added, “That is no way to run this program. It is really living hand to mouth, week to week, with a lot a monitoring and a lot of uncertainty.”
A potential few more months for the HTF to spend on life support is irrelevant to the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs. Accordingly, ARTBA’s ongoing push for enactment of robust, long-term surface transportation program reauthorization bill in 2015 is proceeding unchanged.