On June 26, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to discuss U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) plan to generate $9 billion to replenish the Highway Trust Fund.
The plan included changes to retirement plans and an increase in the annual fees levied against large trucks. As a result of these changes, the trust fund would have remained solvent until 2015.
As I have detailed in a previous blog, finding a solution is important to on- and off-highway motorcycling.
Senate Republicans opposed Wyden’s proposal because – in their estimation – it did not provide a fair balance of spending cuts to tax increases.
Late last week, the committee announced several changes to the original plan that has garnered some bipartisan support.
However, amendments are still likely to be offered during the plan’s markup this week.
One amendment that may potentially be offered would move spending authority for the Transportation Alternatives Program from the trust fund to the general fund. If this happens, funds for the Recreational Trails Program would have to be appropriated annually instead of having contract spending authority.
The result would be a loss for motorized and non-motorized trail users. Relying on the appropriations process would introduce more uncertainty in year-to-year funding, with multi-stage trail projects facing additional hurdles. It would also put trail funding in direct competition with all other discretionary programs.
There are only two ways to prevent the RTP’s user-pay/user-benefit status from being severed – keep the TAP within the highway trust fund, or move RTP out of TAP and create a separate program housed within the highway trust fund.
The main argument for moving the TAP into the general fund is that the programs within TAP do not pay for themselves. However, this analysis does not take into account that the Recreational Trails Program – a program that IS funded through the gas tax – is included as part of the TAP account.
When gassing up off-highway-vehicles, users are contributing an estimated $234 million annually to the trust fund and are apportioned only $85 million from the RTP.
The American Motorcyclist Association urges members of Congress to consider the RTP when looking at programs to reshuffle during budget negotiations.
The next markup in the Finance Committee is scheduled for this week. In the meantime, the AMA is working to spread the word on Capitol Hill about the RTP. At first glance it may not seem like a program ideally suited to the highway trust fund. However, because of its unique user-pay/user-benefit status, it deserves to have the contract spending authority of the fund.