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Obama patches highway trust fund

Aug. 11, 2009
As anticipated, President Obama has signed into law legislation (H.R. 357) that the White House said “provides funding to cover expected shortfalls of the Highway Trust Fund” (HTF) as well as for other purposes

As anticipated, President Obama has signed into law legislation (H.R. 357) that the White House said “provides funding to cover expected shortfalls of the Highway Trust Fund” (HTF) as well as for other purposes. However, the $7-billion patch for the HTF contained in the legislative package is by no means the long-term solution for funding highway infrastructure being sought by trucking and other highway-user interest groups.

The financial stopgap will only keep the HTF solvent through the end of the fiscal year, which falls on September 30.

“We supported the $7 billion because without that, the HTF would have stopped sending payments to states for highways,” Clayton Boyce, vp of public affairs & press secretary for the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) told FleetOwner. “The long-term solution to the [HTF] shortfalls is increasing the federal fuel tax, not tolling or VMTT [Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax].

“Tolling and VMTT spends about a third of the money collected on the task of collecting it,” he added. “With the fuel tax, less than 1% of money collected is spent on the task of collecting.”

The Dept. of Transportation at one point requested $20 billion to ensure HTF would remain solvent into 2011—to allow Congress time to debate and pass a wider reauthorization bill. Boyce said that ATA CEO Gov. Bill Graves “is concerned that the short-term reauthorization [$20 billion] would not allow for policy changes that could be made with the full reauthorization” that Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has indicated he wants to see passed.

“But,” added Boyce,” the choice between [passing] full reauthorization and the $20 billion short-term bill is a disagreement between Chairman Oberstar and the White House that we are not lobbying over either way.”

H.R. 3357, which was co-sponsored by Oberstar, was introduced last month and passed the House by 363-68 and the Senate by 79-17.

"Enactment of this legislation will ensure full funding of the highway investment levels authorized by current law, and prevent devastating slowdowns or cuts in each state's federal highway funds," Oberstar said before the House vote, as reported by The Washington Post .

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