American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

House Approves $7 Billion Transfer for Highway Trust Fund

AASHTO Journal News Alert
July 29, 2009

The House of Representatives voted 363-68 late this afternoon to pass a bill that would deposit $7 billion into the Highway Trust Fund from the federal government's General Fund to ensure state transportation departments will continue receiving full reimbursements for federal-aid highway projects through September, the end of the current federal fiscal year.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-NY, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-WI, introduced the measure (HR 3357) Tuesday. It was quickly expedited to the House floor today using a procedure known as suspension of the rules, whereby noncontroversial measures can be debated without amendment and passed with a two-thirds vote.

Rangel and Obey had originally proposed a $5 billion infusion for the Highway Trust Fund. The amount of the transfer was upped to $7 billion today, however, before floor consideration began.

The House bill now goes to the Senate, which is likely to act on it next week. While the House begins its summer recess this Friday, the Senate remains in Washington until Aug. 7. Both chambers will resume their session after Labor Day.

During the 40 minutes of House floor debate this afternoon, supporters argued the Highway Trust Fund needs additional funding immediately to prevent the payment slowdown to states, which could cause states to then curtail their road construction activity. Opponents contended the transfer is not paid for by any new revenue source and that Congress needs to stop bailing out the Highway Trust Fund. Congress sent the fund an additional $8 billion last September when a similar funding crisis developed due to lower revenue in the trust fund than had been projected as a result of Americans driving less during the economic recession and thus paying less in gasoline and diesel taxes as well as in heavy-truck taxes.

The House bill approved today contains no extension of authority for federal surface transportation programs, which is scheduled to lapse Sept. 30 at the end of this fiscal year. While House leaders have been pushing a full six-year authorization measure, the Obama administration and the Senate have favored a temporary extension of current authority for 18 months. Today's House vote means Congress will have to face the authorization question in September after returning from the summer recess.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-MN, said during today's floor debate that he regrets Congress must take action to shore up the Highway Trust Fund. But the drop in vehicle miles traveled experienced over the past year and a half has left the trust fund short of its revenue projections, necessitating an infusion, he said. Oberstar's six-year, $500 billion authorization measure has been approved by subcommittee but not been brought up before the full T&I Committee yet because there is no agreement with the House Ways and Means Committee on how to raise the extra revenue needed to pay for it.

The bill representatives approved today also includes two provisions unrelated to transportation. It would add money to the Unemployment Trust Fund and the Federal Housing Administration capital fund as well as increase the amount that Ginnie Mae may guarantee on mortgage-backed securities.

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