The clock on extending the federal transit program is ticking, but you wouldn’t really know it by the reactions of our leaders in Washington, D.C. Here is the conclusion of the Congressional Budget Office’s experts in their July 2013 testimony to Congress: “Bringing the Trust Fund into balance in 2015 would require entirely eliminating the authority in that year to obligate funds — projected to be about $51 billion — raising the taxes on motor fuels by about 10 cents per gallon or undertaking some combination of those approaches.” The Mass Transit
Account is in slightly better shape, though, only by a few months. The report released in February projects these accounts are in even worse shape, which means Congress needs to act this summer. Keep in mind federal law mandates the trust fund have a positive cash balance, so by law, these cuts or tax increases must happen if the federal program is to continue at all.
Washington doesn’t seem to be in a hurry
Unfortunately, other than to recognize this is a huge problem coming very soon, neither the president nor the Congress seems to be in any hurry to address the issue. Yet, the problem may be coming sooner than they think. Some in the industry are worried agencies may have to start holding public hearings on cancelled capital projects, budget cuts and fare increases that would be necessary if the trust fund has no money and they are willing to bail it out as they have in the past with General Fund transfers. On the contrary, both sides seem to suggest they are unwilling to do any of the three options — tax increases, severe program cuts or trust fund bailouts — so that leaves only tax increases as a solution.
Urgency must come from business
Because everyone gets the trust fund is a problem, only the business community in each congressional district can get them to act. To their credit, major national industry groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even the truckers, have urged Congress and the president to raise the gas tax, because it is more important for these businesses to have a better transportation network than to pay a little more at the pump.
Now, it has to be local businesses’ turn and that includes industry’s supply-side companies. Our private sector organizations need to tell their story, forcefully, about the jobs and the lost business activity at stake if contracts are cancelled, delayed or suspended. They need to demonstrate in vivid terms how 72% of the dollars — almost three out of every four — that flow through the industry will be felt in the private sector. And, they need to do this to every member of Congress, especially the members of the relevant committees, now.