Infusing cash to keep the Highway Trust fund afloat at the end of fiscal 2009 is a matter of payback, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., said Monday.
Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told The Journal of Commerce that the U.S. Treasury owes the trust fund $21 billion plus interest since Congress agreed to shift a trust fund surplus to the general fund in 1998.
Last week the Obama administration informed lawmakers that the trust fund would need $5 billion to $7 billion by the end of August.
In 1998, Congress transferred $29 billion from the HTF to the general fund, administered by Treasury. In Sept. 2008, Congress drew $8 billion to fund a trust fund shortfall.
“We gave up $29 billion in 1998 to get the firewalls in place around the trust funds,” Oberstar said. “As part of that negotiation, Bud Shuster and I agreed to consign the $29 billion surplus in the Highway Trust Fund to debt reduction.” Shuster, R-Pa., was chairman of the transportation committee before he resigned his seat in February 2001.
Shortages in the trust fund, which gets most of its revenue from fuel taxes, have been attributed to people driving less, driving more fuel efficient vehicles, and the general decline in the economy.
Oberstar said another infusion from the general fund would “depend on the condition of the trust fund as we get into the latter part of this fiscal year.”
According to Jim Berard, Oberstar’s press secretary, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that the Highway Trust Fund would have a $2 billion balance at the end of 2009, not the shortfall that the administration predicts.
Contact R.G. Edmonson at firstname.lastname@example.org.