Finding ways to reinvigorate the Highway Trust Fund
By Mindy Long
Rep. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) is front and center on Capitol Hill when it comes to shaping the future of highway spending and determining how to meet the nation’s energy needs. She has represented her home state in the House since 2006, and serves on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Small Business. She shared her thoughts on upcoming legislation with Road King.
Q What changes would you like to see to ensure America’s transportation needs are met in the coming years?
A It is imperative we develop a sustainable and reliable source of funding to support our highway system. Our current highway funding is derived from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is financed by the federal motor fuel taxes we pay at the pump. However, the 18.3-cent tax we pay per gallon on gasoline and 21-cent tax per gallon on diesel fuel does not provide enough revenue for the trust fund to meet its current obligations to maintain our highway infrastructure. Since 85 percent of our state’s highway funding comes from federal sources, it is alarming to think the Federal Highway Trust Fund is going broke.
Various proposals have been raised in Congress to ensure the trust fund, and in turn our highway system, are adequately funded. Some of these proposals include raising the federal fuel tax or raising taxes on drivers based on how many miles they drive. I do not support either of these proposals because I believe they would devastate our economy and unfairly penalize those who often travel long distances to get to work.
I believe we can take two steps to better fund our highway system. First, we can allow states to keep the federal motor fuel taxes they generate. Second, we can remove excessive regulatory barriers that lead to costly delays of road and bridge projects.
In addition to the overall funding shortfall, I also believe we must address the unfairness of a funding system where states like Oklahoma have historically put more money into the fund than they get back. For many years, Oklahoma was a “donor state,” which means that for every dollar our drivers paid in fuel taxes, our state received less than a dollar from the Trust Fund. A comprehensive reauthorization must address this inequity to ensure our state receives the revenue it needs to maintain its highways.
Q The efficient movement of freight is crucial for our society. What are you doing to support interstate commerce?
A My approach is two-fold. We must first ensure our nation has a first-class infrastructure system to facilitate the efficient delivery of goods and services throughout the country. I am fighting for a comprehensive long-term highway reauthorization bill that will adequately support critical maintenance and upgrades. A comprehensive authorization will also allow states to create and implement long-term plans to address their unique infrastructure needs. Oklahoma alone has a $12 billion backlog of projects awaiting completion.
We must simultaneously reduce the burden of high-energy costs on the freight industry by diversifying both the fuels and methods of transportation we use. I am a co-author of the American Energy Act, a comprehensive all-of-the-above energy plan to meet our short-term and long-term energy needs affordably. It would expand deep sea drilling, encourage conservation and invest in alternative energies like wind power, nuclear and biofuels. By increasing domestic production, we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and drive down energy costs across the board while preserving the environment and creating jobs.
Q What role will biofuels play in the movement of freight?
A Biofuels, along with oil, natural gas, wind, solar and nuclear energy, will all play an important role in meeting America’s energy needs for the future. The key for developing all of the above is incentivizing our energy producers to innovate and develop these new technologies. Current energy proposals like the House-passed Cap and Trade bill would actually discourage the development of these resources with heavy taxes on both energy producers and consumers.
Q How will you protect truckers from increases in their costs of doing business, such as tolls and taxes?
A Above all else, I do not believe it is wise to raise taxes on American industry during the worst economic recession in a generation. However the reality is the Highway Trust Fund is broke and we must find an acceptable way to fund our nation’s critical infrastructure needs without increasing the debt or costs on businesses or families.
The views expressed in this column are those of the interview subject and do not necessarily reflect the views of Road King, its editors or affiliates of Road King.