The House Republican leadership on Friday outlined to its caucus a strategy to fund a short-term extension of the current surface transportation bill and avert insolvency for the Highway Trust Fund by using forced savings from the U.S. Postal Service.
Hopes are waning that Congress will reauthorize a comprehensive surface transportation bill before the expiration of the MAP-21 legislation on Sept. 30, but action is necessary even without a comprehensive bill because the Highway Trust Fund is expected to run out of money in August for building and repairing infrastructure. Demand for maintenance and improvements on federal-aid highways has exceeded receipts from motor fuel taxes and excise taxes on commercial vehicles primarily due to more fuel-efficient cars, and the fact that the gas and diesel taxes have not been increased for 21 years; this has resulted in a loss of construction purchasing power.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to slow down payments to states as early as July to stretch the remaining funds further, which is expected to force state DOTs to put the brakes on many projects in the prime construction season. States have already begun to scale back plans for new projects because of the funding uncertainty, which the Department of Transportation says will lead to 700,000 lost jobs over the next year as construction companies respond by laying off workers.
HTF receipts are about $34 billion per year, but obligations to states are running close to $40 billion annually.
House GOP leaders issued a memo to their membership proposing to move to a five-day postal delivery schedule and apply the savings to a short-term bailout of the trust fund instead of using money from the General Fund, according to an email from the office of Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. In the past three years, Congress has transferred $54 billion from the General Fund to prop up the Highway Trust Fund.
The offset is consistent with GOP budget solutions the past three years aimed to preventing further growth in government spending.
"This proposal from House Republican Leadership is a non-starter. It kicks the can down the road yet again on two pressing issues — fixing the Postal Service and the Highway Trust Fund — and fails to solve either problem. The hard truth is that moving to a five-day delivery schedule isn’t enough on its own to save the Highway Trust Fund or the U.S. Postal Service. The numbers just don’t add up," Carper, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on transportation and infrastructure, said in a statement.
"Furthermore, using permanent policy changes, like moving to five-day delivery, as a short-term funding band-aid is not responsible leadership. We have been relying on short-term patches to fund the Highway Trust Fund since 2009, and it's both ineffective and expensive. If House Republicans want to prevent a taxpayer bailout of the Postal Service, they should focus on passing comprehensive postal reform legislation, not shirking the responsibility of making tough decisions regarding the future of our nation’s infrastructure. I'm committed to solving the financial crises facing both the U.S. Postal Service and the Highway Trust Fund, and I stand ready to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find responsible solutions to these important challenges, but I can't endorse a plan that just dodges the tough decisions yet again and doesn't fix any problems along the way,” he said.
newspaper reported that the Republican memo estimates ending delivery of first-class mail on Saturdays would raise $10.7 billion over a decade
, with an additional $1.3 billion coming from leftover money in a trust fund for leaking underground storage tanks. The Highway Trust Fund needs about $15 billion to stay in the black for another year.
Many, including the U.S. Postal Service's inspector general, have questioned the projected savings the Postal Service would conceivably receive from stopping Saturday letter delivery.
Meanwhile, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials on Friday also called on Congress to maintain the liquidity of the Highway Trust Fund before the Federal Highway Administration is forced to begin delaying reimbursements for transportation work underway.
"The federal government is doing absolutely nothing for its part to help cities and states fix the roads and bridges. We have crumbling roads, we have bridges that are not safe, and we have the worst infrastructure that anybody can remember in the history of our country," Ray LaHood, President Obama's transportation secretary until last August and now co-chairman of infrastructure advocacy group Building America's Future, said Monday on C-SPAN
's "Washington Journal" program.
The condition of America's infrastructure is a major concern for businesses because congestion is making it more difficult to move freight or to get employees to work.