House Budget Committee Hearing: State of the Highway Trust Fund: Long-Term Solutions for Solvency

Chairman Paul Ryan: Opening Remarks, As Prepared for Delivery

“Welcome, everybody. I want to thank our witnesses for agreeing to testify. We appreciate your taking the time to share your expertise.

“Infrastructure is an important part of our economy. Government plays a role in our public infrastructure—our highways, our roads, our bridges. But the federal government is neglecting this responsibility. It’s spending record levels of taxpayer dollars. And it’s not spending them wisely. In fact, it recently abandoned a key principle: that we limit highway spending to what people pay to drive on them. 

“The Highway Trust Fund is broke. This problem has been building for years. In the 90s, Congress set a floor on spending. But it didn’t set a ceiling. So the gap between spending and revenue continued to grow—on average, by $1 billion a year over the last decade—while gas-tax receipts stalled. In the next decade, the CBO anticipates the gap to widen. It expects the Highway Trust Fund to run annual cash deficits of $13 to $14 billion.

“Under current law, the trust fund can’t incur a negative balance. So if funds get too low, spending will automatically decrease, and the Department of Transportation will ration money to states. If we continue what we’ve done until last year, we’ll bail the highway fund out with borrowed money.

“And it wouldn’t be the first time. We’ve bailed out the trust fund multiple times over the years—to the tune of $41 billion since 2008—in addition to $27.5 billion in the stimulus. Though it included some needed reforms, the most recent surface-transportation reauthorization bill, MAP-21, included $19 billion in general-fund transfers. Now, to its credit, for the first time, the cost of the general-fund transfers were offset in MAP-21.  Despite these large infusions, however, CBO estimates the trust fund will go bankrupt sometime in fiscal year 2015 under current law.

“I want to thank Mr. Blumenauer for requesting this hearing. On our side of the aisle, we have three members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I hope we can learn more today about the financial problems the highway trust fund faces and solutions to ensure this program’s solvency. 

“Unfortunately, I have a mark-up at the Ways and Means Committee, so I’m going to turn the gavel over to Congressman Garrett for the remainder of the hearing. I know I speak for the entire Committee when I say we look forward to your insights on how to solve this problem. I ask unanimous consent that all members have seven days to submit statements for the record. Thank you very much for coming, and we look forward to your suggestions. 

“With that, I yield to the ranking member, Mr. Van Hollen.”