Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has proposed an "immediate" 18-month reauthorization of the federal highway program that also would infuse the faltering Highway Trust Fund with enough money to avoid a shortfall in August.
LaHood said in a June 17 statement that he had briefed congressional lawmakers on the trust fund's problems and said that if money isn't added to the fund, "the trust fund will run out of money as soon as late August and states will be in danger of losing the vital transportation funding they need and expect."
LaHood did not disclose details of his plan to fix the trust fund. He has told Congress that any infusion of revenue to the fund must be offset.
In May, Dept. of Transportation and Office of Management and Budget officials had told congressional aides that the trust fund's highway account faces a shortfall of $5 billion to $7 billion in August. They also said that the situation is worse for fiscal 2010, projecting that the account would need an additional $8 billion to $10 billion.
Reasons for the problem include continued declines in vehicle miles traveled compared with year-earlier levels and a resulting negative impact on federal fuel-tax revenue that feeds the trust fund. In addition, outlays from the fund are heavy in the summer and early fall as the construction season peaks.
LaHood's proposal for an 18-month surface transportation reauthorization puts him at odds with House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.), who plans to release a "blueprint" of a multi-year bill on June 18. Oberstar told reporters June 17, "Extension of current law is unacceptable."
The current authorization measure, the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users--SAFETEA-LU--lapses on Sept. 30.
LaHood said that "with the reality of our fiscal environment and the critical demand to address our infrastructure investments in a smarter, more focused approach, we should not rush legislation."�He added, "We should work together on a full reauthorization that best meets the demands of the country."