Instead, House Republicans appear ready to undermine one of the more fiscally conservative funding mechanisms in existence. A provision of the 1974 Budget Act requires that the Highway Trust Fund receive 90 percent of its revenue from users in order to maintain its exemptions from appropriations meddling. Assuming drilling royalty revenues are great enough to close the near-term funding gap, the House Republicans’ proposal would push the percentage of user-based Trust Fund revenue to well below 80 percent.
Weakening this standard calls into question the purpose of having a federal trust fund in the first place. If that were to happen, the chorus for abolition of user-pays and a reactionary reversion to general-revenue funding of highways would only grow louder. Rather than learning from our previous mistakes, we would be making them all over again.
While we would all benefit from expanded domestic-energy production and increased lease revenues, Republicans ought to reconsider “drilling for roads.” Expanding energy production and funding road projects through the existing user-pays mechanism are both laudable goals, each worth pursuing on its own. Lawmakers should decouple the two and address them in separate legislation. America’s highways are far too important to be left to myopic political gimmickry.
— Marc Scribner is a land-use and transportation-policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.