“We’ve got to get a highway bill,” Cravaack said. “We’ve got to get long-term projections. We’ve got to get people back to work, we’ve got to get our bridges and our roads.”
Solving the Trust Fund problem
The increasing difficulty of paying for the Highway Trust Fund is central to the concerns over the funding for the nation’s infrastructure projects, most of which comes from the fund.
An 18.3 percent federal gasoline tax makes up about two-thirds of the trust fund’s roughly $40 billion in revenue each year, but with Americans driving less amid rising fuel prices increases, and with fuel efficiency standards increasing, the tax has become a less robust source of revenue than it has in the past. The Congressional Budget Office expects the fund to go broke sometime in 2013, and the government has already had to come up with several billion in non-gas tax funding for the trust fund every year, including using stimulus money and transfers from the general fund.
Congress has not increased the gas tax since 1993, and there is little political will to do so this session. Instead, the Senate has proposed closing tax loopholes and moving around other federal tax revenues to pay for the trust fund, while House Republicans are attempting to expand oil drilling, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to increase revenue. The plan has, not surprisingly, angered Democrats, and even some Republicans.
Cravaack, meanwhile, postulated that the government could use royalties from oil companies to pay for the trust fund. Walz, for one, said he wasn’t upset by the drilling plan, but he said lawmakers had considered a litany of other revenue plans, including adding a surcharge to transitions on Wall Street, before landing on more oil.
“There was a lot of soul-searching and honest member-to-member work over the years, that we didn’t have things like ANWR because it simply didn’t make enough of the difference for the environmental threat that was there,” Walz said. “It’s the problem we’ve had all year of putting these ideologically unpalatable bills forward … not with any intent of moving it.”