Highway Trust Fund

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The Highway Trust Fund is a transportation fund in the United States which receives money from a federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel and related excise taxes.[1] It currently has two accounts, the Highway Account funding road construction and other surface transportation projects, and a smaller Mass Transit Account supporting mass transit. Separate from the Highway Trust Fund is the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, which receives an additional 0.1 cents per gallon on gasoline and diesel, making the total amount of tax collected 18.5 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.5 cents per gallon on diesel fuel. The Highway Trust Fund was established in 1956 to finance the United States Interstate Highway System and certain other roads. The Mass Transit Account was created in 1982. The federal tax on motor fuels yielded $28.2 billion in 2006.[2]


Prior to the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the establishment of the Highway Trust Fund, roads were financed directly from the General Fund of the United States Department of the Treasury. The 1956 Act directed federal fuel tax to the Treasury’s General Fund to be used exclusively for highway construction and maintenance. The Highway Revenue Act, pre-dating the Fund, mandated a tax of three cents per gallon. This original Act, also known as Highway Revenue Act, was set to expire at the end of fiscal year 1972. In the late 1950s, the gas tax was increased to four cents. The 1982 Surface Transportation Assistance Act, approved by President Ronald Reagan in January 1983, increased the tax to nine cents with one cent going into a new Mass Transit Account to support public transport. In 1990, the gas tax was increased by President George H. W. Bush with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 to 14 cents, with 2.5 cents of the increase going to the Highway Fund. The other 2.5 cents of the Omnibus Act was directed towards deficit reduction. In 1993, President Clinton increased the gas tax to 18.4 cents with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 with all of the increase going towards deficit reduction. The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 redirected the 1993 increase to the newer Fund.[3]

During 2008, the Fund required an additional $8 billion, which was provided by the Treasury’s general revenue funds to cover a shortage in the Fund. This shortage was due to lower gas consumption as a result of the recession and higher gas prices, together meaning an overall decrease in revenues that would otherwise have been directed to the Fund.[4] Further transfers of $7 billion and an additional $19.5 billion were made in 2009 and 2010, respectively.[5]

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain proposed a 'gas holiday', suspending the tax during the peak summer driving season. Senator Hillary Clinton endorsed this idea soon afterwards, while Senator Barack Obama opposed the holiday. As an alternative, Senator Clinton proposed a 'windfall tax' on oil companies, which would make up for the lost revenue from the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel without affecting any existing or planned projects.[2]

Since 2000, there have been at least half a dozen attempts by individual members of Congress to suspend the federal gas tax, without which (and without a replacement) would have halted repair and expand the Federal highway system. All such attempts have failed.[6]

Solvency issues[edit]

From 2008 to 2010, Congress authorized the transfer of $35 billion from the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury to keep the Trust Fund solvent.[7]

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected in 2012 that the Fund's Highway Account and Mass Transit Account would become insolvent by 2014. CBO said that although vehicles would travel more miles in the future (therefore consuming more taxable fuel), congressional refusal to increase the fuel tax would have caused the Fund to receive less money. Further, CBO assumed that Congress would not increase transportation spending beyond inflation (adjusted from 2012).[7]

As of June 2015, the CBO projected that payments from the Highway Trust Fund to the many states would need to be delayed at some point before the end of federal fiscal year 2015 (i.e., before the end of September 2015) to keep the balance above zero, without either some increase in the federal motor fuel excise tax (or allocation of other revenues to the Trust Fund). Alternatively, Congress would have had to reduce Trust Fund spending commitments.[8]

In 2013, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported raising the federal gasoline tax to keep the Fund solvent.[9]

The United States Congress passed a stopgap plan on July 31, 2014 to prevent a funding lapse.[10]

As of 2015, despite a considerable drop in gas prices, there was still little support among the US public and Congress for any increase(s) of the gasoline excise tax.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Petroleum Marketing Explanatory Notes" (PDF). United States Energy Information Agency. Retrieved March 2, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Broder, John M. (April 29, 2008). "Democrats Divided Over Gas Tax Break". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  3. ^ When did the Federal Government begin collecting the gas tax?
  4. ^ Weiss, Eric M. (September 6, 2008). "Highway Trust Fund Is Nearly Out of Gas". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  5. ^ "President Signs Bill Providing 9-Month Extension, $19.5 Billion for Highway Trust Fund". The Washington Post. March 19, 2010. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
  6. ^ Power, Stephen (April 15, 2008). "McCain's Gas-Tax Plan May Be a Clunker". Washington Wire. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  7. ^ a b Holeywell, Ryan (January 31, 2012). "CBO: Highway Trust Fund Account Goes Broke in 2013". Governing.
  8. ^ Kile, Joseph. "Testimony on the Status of the Highway Trust Fund". Congressional Budget Office. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  9. ^ Kohn, Bernie (February 12, 2013). "U.S. Role in Highways Questioned, Answered". Bloomberg Business News. Retrieved March 7, 2013.
  10. ^ Memoli, Michael. "Congress approves temporary highway funding measure". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 3, 2014.
  11. ^ Cohen, Patricia (January 2, 2015). "Gasoline-Tax Increase Finds Little Support". The New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2015.

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