A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation that would spend $275 billion over the next six years on the nation’s roads, as Congress rushes to prevent an interruption in federal infrastructure spending next month. The measure, known as the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act, calls for appropriating nearly $43 billion per year to the federal government’s highway program.
The spending would be contingent upon lawmakers coming up with a way to pay for it, which is a huge obstacle. The federal government’s transportation spending is typically funded by a combination the gas tax and transfers from other areas of the budget. Lawmakers face a July 31 deadline for the expiration of the current infrastructure measure but are deadlocked on how to pay for an extension.
The federal gas tax, which is currently 18.4 cents per gallon, has been the traditional source of transportation funding since its inception in the 1930s. But the tax has not been increased since 1993, and improvements in auto fuel efficiency have sapped its purchasing power.
The federal government spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually. As a result of the shortfall, Congress has not passed a transportation bill that last longer than two years since 2005. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion in addition to the gas tax revenue to close the gap long enough to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill, such as the measure offered in the Senate.