June 18, 2008
The Journal Record
Inhofe: A Fix for the Highway Bill is a Top Priority
Link to Op/Ed
As The Journal Record reported this week, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation says that without an immediate federal fix, “Oklahoma stands to lose 6,000-7,000 jobs as highway projects are downsized in an impending national highway funding shortage.”
Providing an immediate solution is a top priority. Through my leadership position on the Senate EPW Committee, I am working to ensure the federal fix to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is adopted by Congress, ensuring highway funds continue to flow to Oklahoma as intended.
Oklahomans know I have a long record of providing for Oklahoma’s transportation needs. In 2005, I authored the federal highway law, SAFETEA-LU, which for the first time ensures Oklahoma receives a full return on the money paid in federal fuel taxes. I am very proud of the $3 billion I was able to bring back to the state to address Oklahoma’s infrastructure challenges.
The HTF, established in 1956, funds the nation’s highway program. Since its inception, the HTF has been funded by fuel taxes (18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline, 24.4 cents gallon for diesel), truck tire taxes, and a tax on new vehicles over 55,000 Gross Vehicle Weight. Unlike other federal trust funds, the HTF is unique in that the money paid into the fund actually goes towards transportation infrastructure and not other uses. Thus far, we have been fortunate because the revenues going into the trust fund have adequately funded it. Unfortunately, we are now encountering a “perfect storm” of events that have effectively depleted once-historic trust fund balances.
A combination of higher gas prices which, for the first time, have resulted in a significant reduction of vehicle miles traveled, and more fuel-efficient vehicles has caused sharp reductions in the amount of revenue coming into the HTF. Therefore, unless Congress steps in to replenish the fund, the HTF will go broke.
In the short term, in order to avoid cutbacks by the states in transportation improvements and loss of construction jobs, we must make sure that there is sufficient funding in the HTF to allow SAFETEA-LU, the current highway law set to expire in 2009, to be fully funded. In order to do that, I am supporting a proposal to restore $8 billion to the HTF that was lost in 1998. Existing concerns about the ability of the HTF to honor commitments made to states are causing many to hold back on planned projects. Fixing the HTF shortfall will allow states to continue projects as planned.
In the long term, all ideas must be on the table to meet the challenge of updating our transportation system. The economic engine that fuels America is dependent on an efficient and reliable transportation network. If we are going to continue to be the world leader in the global economy, we can no longer afford to live off transportation infrastructure investments made a generation ago. We need to develop new and reliable revenue streams that allow all users to pay their fair share. It is time to update our thinking!