Legislation to reauthorize federal surface transportation programs is under consideration in both houses of Congress. The previous transportation authorization – the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), enacted in 2005 – expired in 2009. Since that time, surface transportation programs and activities have been operated under a series of extensions.
The main obstacle to enactment of a new multi-year bill during the past two years has been the disparity between projected spending and the much lower projections of the revenue flows to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Taxes on gasoline and diesel provide approximately 90% of the revenues for the HTF, which historically has funded the entire highway program and roughly 80% of the mass transit program. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the unexpended balance of the highway account of the HTF will reach zero during FY13 and that the balance in the Mass Transit Account will reach zero in FY14.
The Senate reauthorization bill (the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act) would authorize surface transportation programs through FY13. Fully funding the bill would require roughly $10 billion in revenues or offsets beyond anticipated HTF revenues. The House bill (the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act) links the usual surface transportation reauthorization components with provisions designed to increase oil and gas production, the revenues from which would be provided for highway infrastructure. The bills differ significantly in programmatic content and treatment of the HTF.