The report, conducted for the Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) by William and Mary University‘s Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy, forecasts that over the next 23 years the Highway Trust Fund will run up a $365.5 billion deficit. The number may be new but the logic behind it isn’t — the fuel tax will provide too little income as fuel efficiency rises in automobiles. The study offers a few possible solutions, says AED. The research team determined that restoring the gas tax’s 1993 spending power by raising it to 25 cents (it is 18.4 cents now) and indexing it for future inflation would raise $167 billion above current baseline spending requirements over the next two decades. The study also examined ways to implement a vehicle mileage-based user fee.
One question of course is whether the HTF can stay afloat for 23 years. A recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report says it will be bankrupt by FY 2015. Whatever recent approaches have been taken by study groups such as this one have found that the HTF is doomed to massive shortfalls unless something is done. The methodology and projections in this report, and the data it relies on are valuable additions to the debate about the HTF as reauthorization comes around again in 2014, and the political posing and infighting that precedes it has already begun.