HTF problem? No problem, says LaHood

It appears that I have been mislead. The Highway Trust fund is doing just fine. It can pay for current and future projects. In fact it’s so okay that fears of another bailout maybe being required are completely unjustified. And I thought we had a problem with the HTF

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, here cited from a Reuters report, made the lack of an HTF problem clear when addressing a Senate hearing yesterday.

“A multibillion-dollar highway and transit construction fund is healthy enough to support current and future projects despite its dependence on gas tax revenue, the transport secretary said.

Senators this week expressed concern to transport chief Ray LaHood over the impact rising gas prices, now at an average $3.50 per gallon, could have on the trust fund that was bailed out in 2008 after it nearly ran dry.

La Hood told a senate hearing on Thursday the Highway Trust Fund should remain solvent through September 2012. He did not envision the need for another bailout.”

In the same story we get from a Senator something very close to stating the obvious (and we thank her).

“But Patty Murray, chair of the appropriations transportation panel in the Democratic-led Senate, grew impatient and sharply told LaHood that “we need more than grand ideas” to fund infrastructure investment.

‘Unfortunately, this budget proposal does not offer us real solutions for the challenges we face today,’ Murray said.”

There is a simple equation at work here: The existing gas tax will not provide enough money for an adequate HTF for the next six-year surface transportation act, and if we do not raise it there are no alternatives in place to make up the difference. What you have instead of existing alternatives, or at least ideas that could work in the very short term, are what Senator Murray is calling “grand ideas.”

The Reuters story makes it clear I think that there is no middle ground. With no higher gas tax and no alternative ready to provide the extra revenue needed, the next piece of legislation will be inadequate to meet the needs of America’s 21st century transportation infrastructure. I can’t shake the feeling that the new bill will go ahead anyway, with all of the people involved in its production knowing its not good enough.

I remember as a very small boy in a gym class being award four points for various exercises and being told that another one was “a very good try.” I proudly announced my score at the end of class as “four and a very good try” Perhaps Washington can tell states next year, “here’s $25million (way less than you need) and some grand ideas.”