Putting off difficult decisions
No one in Congress wants to take the blame for higher gasoline taxes just weeks before a major election. That probably explains delays in addressing long-term problems with the Highway Trust Fund.
But unless something is done to provide an infusion of money for the fund, it will dry up within months. By August, payments to states for road construction and repair will have to be cut off.
State transportation officials understand the challenge. Many highway departments receive much of their funding through state taxes on vehicle fuel. The federal fund relies entirely on it.
More fuel-efficient vehicles and inflation in general have opened gaps between fuel-tax funding and highway needs. That is why the federal fund will run out of money later this year.
Senators already have passed a stopgap measure that would provide $265 billion for the fund during the next six years. That would allow states to receive money at current levels.
But President Barack Obama wants a $302 billion, four-year funding scheme. His idea is to provide much of the money through higher business taxes.
Simply adjusting the federal gasoline tax, now 18.4 cents a gallon, upward would resolve the problem. Again, no one wants to do that just before an election.
House of Representatives members should agree to the Senate bill – in order to prevent highway repairs throughout the nation from grinding to a halt in August. Then, a long-range plan can be tackled.