Federal Highway Trust Fund (United States)

Federal Highway Trust Fund (United States)

The United States Highway Trust Fund is a transportation fund with three accounts - the bulk composed by the 'Highway Fund', a smaller Mass Transit Account and a comparatively small Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund. Lawmakers established it in 1956 to ensure dependable financing for maintenance of the United States Interstate Highway System and certain other roads. Money in the fund is raised indirectly via a federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel and related excise taxes. [cite web |url=http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/reports/fifahiwy/fifahi05.htm |title=Financing Federal-Aid Highways |accessdate=2008-09-10 |publisher=United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration |date=1999-09-15 ]

= History =

The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) was founded by the 1956 Highway Revenue Act. Prior to the HTF, funds were directed from the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury. Originally, the fund was dedicated solely to highways. Yet, the Highway Revenue Act of 1982 mandated a separate account to support mass transit. Effective April 1, 1983, a Mass Transit Account was created to receive a portion of the motor fuel taxes and receives about 2.86 cents per gallon of gas.

The HTF and fuel taxes

The Highway Revenue Act mandated a three cent tax, increased to four cents in the late 1950s and the tax held steady at that level until the passage of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act in 1982. After President Ronald Reagan approved the act on January 6, 1983, the tax was increased to nine cents and mandated the establishment of the Mass Transit Account, splitting the tax with 8 cents going to the Highway Fund and one cent going to the Mass Transit Account.

Politicians later seized on fuel taxes as an area where taxes could be collected for deficit reduction. On November 5, 1990, in an effort to reduce the deficit, President George H. W. Bush approved the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, which increased the gas tax another five cents - half going to the Highway Fund and half going to deficit reduction. President Clinton increased the gas tax by 4.3 cents when he signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 on August 10, 1993. The total tax to 18.4 cents per gallon. However, the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 redirected the 4.3 cent hike to the HTF.

The general motor fuel tax still stands at 18.4 cents; however the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, formed in 2005 discussed raising the federal gas tax to 40 cents per gallon over five years. In its current form, the tax would be raised 5-8 cents annually for five years, then be indexed to inflation. [cite news
date = April 22, 2008
title=Ahead of the Bell: Transportation funding
publisher= cnn.com

The federal tax on motor fuels yielded $28.2 billion in 2006.cite news
last= Broder
first= John M.
url= http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/29/us/politics/29campaign.html?partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=all
title= Democrats Divided Over Gas Tax Break
publisher= The New York Times
date= April 29, 2008
accessdate= 08-05-01

Challenges to the fuel tax

Politicians have occasionally threatened to suspend the taxes that support the HTF. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Since 2000, there have been at least half a dozen attempts by individual members of Congress to suspend the federal gas tax, which raises money to repair and expand the highway system. All have failed." [cite news
last= Power
first= Stephen
url= http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2008/04/15/mccains-gas-tax-plan-may-be-a-clunker/?mod=WSJBlog
title= McCain’s Gas-Tax Plan May Be a Clunker
publisher= Wall Street Journal / Washington Wire
date= April 15, 2008
accessdate= 08-04-16

The fuel tax became a prominent issue in April 2008 during the 2008 presidential election when Senator John McCain first proposed a 'gas holiday'- a suspension in the tax during the peak driving season in summer - and Senator Hillary Clinton did soon after in late April 2008. Senator Barack Obama opposed the suspension in fuel taxes. According to "The New York Times", Clinton proposed a 'windfall tax' on oil companies, which "would cover all of the lost revenue from the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. She also said no highway projects would suffer."

Methods of Finance

Tax revenues directed to the HTF are derived from excise taxes on highway motor fuel and truckrelated taxes on truck tires, sales of trucks and trailers, and heavy vehicle use.

The Highway Trust Fund is unique in that it is funded by the users, namely those who travel on the highways. It is modeled on the Social Security Trust Fund, where money goes to the general treasury but is credited to the fund. In the original Highway Revenue Act, the crediting of user taxes to the HTF wasset to expire at the end of fiscal year 1972.

The fund has been projected to run out in 2009. [cite news
last= Schoen
first= John W.
url= http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20095291/
title= U.S. highway system badly in need of repair
publisher= MSNBC
date= August 3, 2007
accessdate= 08-04-16


External links

* [http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/reports/fifahiwy/fifahi05.htm Financing the Federal Highway Trust, by the Federal Highway Administration]
* [http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/aap/PRIMER98.PDF Federal Highway Administration "Primer" on the FHT (pdf)]
* [http://www.nemw.org/HWtrustfund.htm What is the Highway Trust Fund?]
* [http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/gastax.cfm When did the Federal Government begin collecting the gas tax?]

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