The Times West Virginian

Headline News

July 2, 2014

Highway crisis looms as soon as August, Obama warns

WASHINGTON — Gridlock in Washington will lead to gridlock across the country if lawmakers can’t quickly agree on how to pay for highway and transit programs, President Barack Obama and his top officials warned Tuesday.

States will begin to feel the pain of cutbacks in federal aid as soon as the first week in August — peak summer driving time — if Congress doesn’t act, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a letter to states. That’s because the balance in the federal Highway Trust Fund is dropping and will soon go below $4 billion, the cushion federal officials say is needed for incoming fuel tax revenue to cover outgoing payments to states.

The cuts will vary from state to state, but will average about 28 percent, Foxx said at a breakfast with reporters. By the end of August, the trust fund’s balance is forecast to fall to zero and the cuts could deepen.

A second deadline is coming on Sept. 30 when the government’s authority to spend money on transportation programs expires.

As many as 700,000 jobs could be at risk, Obama told a crowd of about 500 gathered on a sweltering day beneath the Key Bridge that spans the Potomac River and joins the District of Columbia with Virginia. “That would be like Congress threatening to lay off the entire population of Denver, Seattle or Boston,” he said.

Revenue from federal gas and diesel taxes continues to flow into the trust fund, but the total is expected to be about $8 billion short of the transportation aid the government has allocated to states this year. Over the next six years, a gap of about $100 billion is forecast if transportation spending is maintained at current levels.

At the same time, transportation experts and industries that depend on the nation’s highways to get their products to market are calling for greater spending on transportation to shore up aging roads, bridges and tunnels and to accommodate population growth.

“Right now there are more than 100,000 active projects across the country where workers are paving roads and rebuilding bridges and modernizing our transit systems,” Obama said. “And soon states may have to choose which projects to continue and which ones to put the brakes on because they’re running out of money.”

Already some states are cutting back on construction projects because of the uncertainty of federal funding, Foxx said. “I think people will see it in the traffic. I think people will see it in the condition of our roads, he said.

The reason for the shortfall is that revenue from the federal 18.4-cent-a-gallon gasoline and 24.4-cent-a-gallon diesel tax hasn’t kept pace with transportation needs. The taxes haven’t been increased in more than 20 years, while construction and other costs have continued to go up.

The most obvious solution is to raise fuel taxes, which is what several blue-ribbon commissions have recommended and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Trucking Associations have urged. But neither political party nor the White House wants to get out front on a proposal to raise taxes in an election year. Foxx didn’t rule out Obama signing legislation that raises the gas tax, but he indicated the administration doesn’t believe there is enough support in Congress to pass a gas tax increase.

“We have said if Congress acts on something, we’ll keep an open mind,” Foxx said.

Instead, Obama is pushing a plan to close tax loopholes and use the revenue to pay for increased transportation spending for the next four years.

“We have a proposal we think is politically acceptable,” Foxx said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Michigan, floated a similar proposal in April. But many Republicans say they’d rather offset increases in transportation spending with cuts to other government programs rather than tax increases. And many lawmakers say they want to continue to the trust fund’s “user pays” principle by raising money from people who most use the roads, if not through a gas tax then some other means.

Nearly a dozen proposals to address the problem have been floated in Congress, but none have gained traction. House Republicans recently proposed a short-term patch based on savings associated with ending Saturday mail delivery by the postal service. The plan died a quick death when it became clear that many GOP lawmakers wouldn’t support it.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., offered a plan last week to keep transportation aid flowing for another six months. The plan, which included raising taxes on large trucks, ran into opposition from Republican senators. He dropped the truck tax, but Republicans say they want more spending cuts as part of the package. Further action is expected when Congress returns to work from a Fourth of July break.

In the House, Camp has said he will offer a new plan to shore up the trust fund next week.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • George Harrison memorial tree killed by beetles

     A tree planted in Los Angeles to honor former Beatle George Harrison has been killed — by beetles.

    July 23, 2014

  • ‘X-Men’ VR experience coming to Comic-Con

    Comic-Con attendees will have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to enter the mind of Professor X.
    20th Century Fox has created an “X-Men”-themed virtual reality stunt especially for the pop-culture convention, which kicks off Thursday in San Diego. The interactive digital experience utilizes the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, which is not yet available to consumers, to simulate the fictional Cerebro technology used to track down mutants by the character portrayed by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy in the “X-Men” films.

    July 23, 2014

  • Centenarian Weather W_time2.jpg At 101, weather observer gets a place in the sun

    It takes only a couple of minutes, twice a day, but 101-year-old Richard Hendrickson is fiercely proud that he has done the same thing for his country and community nearly every day since Herbert Hoover was in the White House in 1930.
    The retired chicken and dairy farmer, whose home sits in the heart of the ritzy Hamptons, has been recording daily readings of temperature and precipitation on eastern Long Island longer than any volunteer observer in the history of the National Weather Service.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 22, 2014

  • U.S. outlines case against Russia on downed plane

    Video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, leaving the likely launch site. Imagery showing the firing. Calls claiming credit for the strike. Recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site.

    July 21, 2014

  • James Garner Obit.jpg 'Maverick' star James Garner, 86, dies in California

     Actor James Garner, whose whimsical style in the 1950s TV Western "Maverick" led to a stellar career in TV and films such as "The Rockford Files" and his Oscar-nominated "Murphy's Romance," has died, police said. He was 86.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Given life term, drug offender hopes for clemency

    From the very start, Scott Walker refused to believe he would die in prison.
    Arrested and jailed at 25, then sent to prison more than two years later, Walker couldn’t imagine spending his life behind bars for dealing drugs. He told himself this wasn’t the end, that someday he’d be released. But the years passed, his appeals failed and nothing changed.

    July 20, 2014

  • Teen’s death puts focus on caffeine powder dangers

    A few weeks before their prom king’s death, students at an Ohio high school had attended an assembly on narcotics that warned about the dangers of heroin and prescription painkillers.
    But it was one of the world’s most widely accepted drugs that killed Logan Stiner — a powdered form of caffeine so potent that as little as a single teaspoon can be fatal.

    July 20, 2014

  • Monitors try to secure Ukraine plane crash site

    International monitors moved gingerly Saturday through fields reeking of the decomposing corpses that fell from a Malaysian airliner shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, trying to secure the sprawling site in hopes that a credible investigation can be conducted.
    But before inspectors ever reach the scene, doubts arose about whether evidence was being compromised.

    July 20, 2014

  • Without radar, missile may not have identified jet

    If Ukrainian rebels shot down the Malaysian jetliner, killing 298 people, it may have been because they didn’t have the right systems in place to distinguish between military and civilian aircraft, experts said Saturday.
    American officials said Friday that they believe the Boeing 777 was brought down by an SA-11 missile fired from an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

    July 20, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads