By a strong margin, the House has approved legislation that would avert a projected deficit in the Highway Trust Fund by shifting $8 billion to the fund from the general Treasury. The measure was approved July 23 on a 387-37 vote, a margin that's well above two-thirds needed to override a threatened presidential veto.
The next move is up to the Senate. That chamber's Appropriations Committee approved an $8-billion transfer to the trust fund in a fiscal 2009 transportation spending bill it cleared July 10. But the full Senate isn't expected to act on the transportation spending bill, or many of the other
2009 appropriations measures any time soon.
The Bush administration had estimated early this year that the trust fund's highway account would show a $3.2-billion deficit in fiscal 2009, which begins Oct. 1 of this year. Updated projections from the Treasury Dept. are expected during the week of July 28. With vehicle traffic down because of high gasoline prices, it is expected that the new numbers will show an even larger shortfall in the trust fund.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar
(D-Minn.) said that gas-tax revenue for the first eight months of fiscal
2008 is $2 billion less than the total collected for the same period the year before. He said, "This unexpected and severe decline in revenues makes it even more critical that we take decisive action now to ensure the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund."
State transportation and construction industry officials who pushed for the bill, have been warning for months that if new revenue isn't added to the trust fund in fiscal 2009, Congress would have to cut that year's highway funding by 34%, or about $14 billion.
The U.S. Dept. of Transportation disputes that view and the Office of Management and Budget issued a statement criticizing the House bill and saying that administration officials would recommend that President Bush veto it.