The crisis facing the federal highway program threatens to take a massive human and economic toll on the construction equipment industry, Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) 2014 Chairman Tim Watters said June 25 on Capitol Hill.
Speaking at a press conference organized by Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Watters said that the program’s looming collapse threatens 4,000 jobs at construction equipment dealerships around the country directly tied to road and bridge work, not to mention 700,000 jobs in the broader construction industry.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has projected the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) will run out of money this summer, which could cause significant disruptions during the busy summer construction season. CBO also has forecast the HTF will not be able to support any new obligation authority in FY 2015, putting an entire year’s worth of highway and transit investment at risk. Over the next 20 years, HTF revenues are expected to fall $365 billion short of what is needed to maintain current investment levels.
The problem stems from the fact that gas tax and other user fee revenues paid into the HTF are inadequate to support annual spending. Congress has not increased the gas tax, a primary source of revenue for the HTF, since 1993. Lawmakers also have failed to identify any alternative ways to pay for roads and transit. Adding to the historic volatility is the fact that authorization for federal surface transportation programs expires at the end of September.
“Every morning hundreds of thousands of hard-working men and women in the construction industry get up, go to work and build America’s transportation infrastructure. If they didn’t do their jobs, this country would come to a grinding halt — we’re disappointed Congress hasn’t done its job and has brought the federal highway program to the brink of collapse,” Watters said.
Watters cited Boxer as a rare example of someone working to solve the problem. Her committee developed a highway reauthorization bill with unanimous Democratic and Republican support earlier this year.
“But a small handful of people isn’t enough to get the job done in this town," Watters said. "I’m here today on behalf of the men and women of the construction equipment industry, in states and districts across the country, to ask every member of Congress to simply do your job. Do what we sent you here to do. Legislate. Govern. Give us a highway bill. And give us the infrastructure the U.S. economy needs to function.”
AED’s projection of the state-by-state equipment market and jobs impact of looming highway funding cuts is available at: http://www.aednet.org/government/pdf-2013/HighwayProgram-20130724.pdf.