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 three accounts, the Highway Account which funds road construction, a smaller 'Mass Transit Account' which supports mass transit and also a 'Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund'. It was established in 1956 to finance the United States Interstate Highway System and certain other roads. The Mass Transit Fund 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 fund to be used exclusively for highway construction and maintenance. The Highway Revenue Act mandated a tax of three cents per gallon. The original Highway Revenue Act was set to expire at the end of fiscal year 1972. In the 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 and the other 2.5 cents going 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 Fund.[3]

During 2008 the fund required support of $8 billion from 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.[4] Further transfers of $7 billion and $19.5 billion were made in 2009 and 2010 respectively. [5]

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain proposed a 'gas holiday', a suspension in the tax during the peak summer driving season. Senator Hillary Clinton endorsed this idea soon afterwards while Senator Barack Obama opposed the suspension. 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 projects. [2]

Since 2000, there have been at least half a dozen attempts by individual members of Congress to suspend the federal gas tax, which raises money to repair and expand the highway system. All 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 January 2012 that the fund's Highway Account will become insolvent during 2013, and the Mass Transit Account insolvent in 2014. CBO said that although vehicles will travel more miles in the future (therefore consuming more taxable fuel), rising fuel efficiency standards and congressional refusal to increase the fuel tax or tie it to the rate of inflation means that the fund receives less money. CBO's insolvency projection assumed that Congress will not increase transportation spending beyond inflation-adjusted 2012 levels.[7]

The Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in late July or early August 2015 as of late June 2015 without an increase in gas taxes.[8] The gas tax has not been raised for such a long time, an increase is dubious.

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

After concerns that funding would not be extended by the United States Congress before funds dried up in August 2014, Congress passed a stopgap plan on July 31, 2014 to prevent a funding lapse. [10]

As of 2015, despite a sharp drop in gas prices, strong resistance remained by both the American public and Congress to raising the gas tax.[11]


The Fund receives hypothecated tax revenues derived from excise taxes on highway motor fuel and truck related taxes on truck tires, sales of trucks and trailers, and heavy vehicle use. Money goes to the general treasury but is then credited to the fund.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Financing Federal-Aid Highways". United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration. 1999-09-15. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  2. ^ a b Broder, John M. (April 29, 2008). "Democrats Divided Over Gas Tax Break". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  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". Wall Street Journal / Washington Wire. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  7. ^ a b Holeywell, Ryan. "CBO: Highway Trust Fund Account Goes Broke in 2013." Governing. January 31, 2012.
  8. ^ Gas tax hike in Oregon?
  9. ^ kohn, Bernie. "U.S. Role in Highways Questioned, Answered." Bloomberg Business News. February 12, 2013, accessed 2013-03-07.
  10. ^ Memoli, Michael. "Congress approves temporary highway funding measure". www.latimes.com. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  11. ^ Patricia Cohen (January 2, 2015). "Gasoline-Tax Increase Finds Little Support". The New York Times (The Times Company). Retrieved January 3, 2015. 

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