As the Highway Trust Fund's financial health nears a critical point, construction industry executives and state transportation officials are nervously watching what Congress will do. The trust fund's highway account is projected to tip over into the red within weeks. If new revenue isn't found, the flow of funds will slow and projects may be put on hold.
Shortly before signing a new water-resources bill on June 10, President Obama weighed in on the unfinished infrastructure business, saying, "We need a transportation bill by the end of this summer … to make sure that projects all across the country don't get shut down."
To make that goal, Congress would have to approve a solution by Aug. 1, when lawmakers begin a monthlong recess. About $10 billion is needed to carry the fund through December.
Various trust-fund fixes are in the air. All have supporters and naysayers. House Republicans are discussing reducing Saturday postal deliveries and shifting the savings to the highway fund. But Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), for one, called that "the wrong way to go."
The Obama administration, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have suggested tax-code changes to encourage U.S. companies to repatriate some overseas earnings. Camp says the plan would raise $126.5 billion over eight years for the trust fund.
But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and the panel's top Republican, Orrin Hatch (Utah), have rejected repatriation as a near-term trust-fund fix. They want to use the revenue as part of a broad tax reform effort.
Meanwhile, congressional appropriators are moving ahead with spending bills covering the Dept. of Transportation's fiscal 2015 budget. The measure the Senate Appropriations Committee cleared on June 5 is more generous than the House version toward some key infrastructure programs, including airport, TIGER and Federal Transit Administration capital investment grants.
The two bills would freeze the highway obligation limit at 2014's $40.3 billion. But a highway reauthorization still is needed. Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association executive vice president, says, "It comes back to [the fact] there's just not enough revenue coming into the Highway Trust Fund, and that's the big issue right now."