WASHINGTON, D.C. -U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called for swift action by the administration and Congress to address a coming shortfall to the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Without Congressional action, it is expected that the Trust Fund could be broke by August. Senator Inhofe discussed the shortfall at an EPW hearing today with Victor M. Mendez, nominated to be the Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, Department of Transportation.
“News that the federal highway trust fund will likely be broke in the next few months is of highest concern to me,” Senator Inhofe said. “The administration has indicated that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money some time before August of this year, and will require an infusion of $5 to $7 billion to get through the rest of fiscal year 2009. An additional $8 to $10 billion will be required in 2010. With Oklahoma jobs at stake, I will be working closely with the administration and my congressional colleagues to resolve the shortfall as soon as possible.”
“Since I have learned about the shortfall, I have been in close contact with Secretary Ridley and he has notified me that if Congress fails to fix the trust fund, Oklahoma and most other states will not have the cash to honor infrastructure projects that have already been agreed to. As a result, my state will be forced to deprogram between $50 and $80 million in projects. This will be done by cancelling new projects and existing contracts that have already been signed, in addition to slowing down projects that have already broken ground. Clearly this would have a detrimental effect on the economy and will negate any gains made by the stimulus—which as I’ve said before, dramatically underinvested in infrastructure.
Through his leadership position on the EPW Committee, Senator Inhofe successfully worked with his Senate colleagues to resolve a similar shortfall last fall. Due largely to extremely high gas prices, receipts deposited into the Highway Trust Fund dropped precipitously. That combined with a busy construction season caused the trust fund balance to fall from $4.2 billion at the end of July to less than $1.4 billion at the beginning of September. State DOTs responded to this announcement by delaying vital construction projects.
“With the billions of dollars pouring out of Washington these days, it’s remarkable that we find ourselves once again with the same transportation shortfall we had last year. At that time, I used my leadership position on the EPW Committee to rectify the problem that ultimately began in 1998 when President Bill Clinton transferred $8 billion out of the Highway Trust Fund and into the General Fund. Last year, we were able to return those funds to their rightful place, but we are still missing 10 years worth of interest on that $8 billion. Once again, I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reach a solution to the immediate problem while also finding a long term solution in the next highway reauthorization bill.
“It is time that this Congress and this administration finally make infrastructure a priority. As I argued during the stimulus debate, infrastructure and defense spending will go much farther in helping restore our economy and putting Americans back to work.”