While Mary Peters warns of Highway Trust Fund insolvency, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) says work has begun on a new surface transportation bill.
Boxer announced at a meeting in Los Angeles on September 4th that work had begun on the new bill and that she is working to develop a set of principles for the bill.
Included in that list of principles are, maintaining the national character of the interstate and federal highway system, efficient movement of people and goods (including intermodal), and safety. She is also calling for reductions in congetstion, consolidating programs to reenforce the programs, establishing funding and performance criteria, and sustainable funding for the Highway Trust Fund, including alternatives.
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters followed with a media briefing the next day, saying, "Since becoming Secretary, I have been advocating for fundamental reform of our approach to transportation in America." She added, "For over three years, we have been warning that our current levels of spending were not sustainable and that the Highway Account would likely go into the red before the current surface transportation legislation expires in 2009."
She explained that, "The urgency of the situation was heightened earlier this summer when we began to see significant and sustained declines in vehicle miles traveled (VMT). For the first time in history, VMT dropped more than 50 billion miles over eight months.
"The less Americans drive, the less gas tax revenue is collected. And with Americans seeking greater fuel economy and taking steps towards conservation, this trend is likely to continue even if highway travel begins growing again." Peters' comments set the stage for what she perceives is a significant fiscal crisis. "It has become increasingly clear that the tab has come due. Put plainly, the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund will not have cash available to reimburse State highway expenditures – not at some point in the distant future, but as soon as this month [September 2008]."
She noted that outlays are now expected to exceed receipts by more than $8 billion for fiscal year 2008. "In September alone," she said, "we expect the Highway Account will take in $2.7 billion but have reimbursement requests totaling $4.4 billion. At current spending rates, we will start the new fiscal year on October 1 with a zero balance in the Trust Fund, and will continue to spend more than we take in."
She concluded saying, "I am asking Congress to get to work on a fiscally responsible and effective transportation spending bill for the coming fiscal year – one that is free of waste and free of earmarks, and one that actually promotes solutions to our most pressing transportation challenges instead of ignoring them.
"I am asking Congress to work with me [to] resolve this shortfall as quickly, and as responsibly, as possible. We must not fail all those Americans who depend on a safe and reliable transportation system every day."