With the federal highway trust fund set to run out of cash in August, House Republicans are circulating a proposal to pay for a one-year extension by cutting back most U.S. mail delivery to five days a week.
The highway fund, which pays for highway and transit projects in all 50 states, is supported by a federal motor fuels tax that Congress hasn’t increased in more than 20 years and never indexed to inflation. Increased construction costs as well as higher fuel efficiency have eroded its buying power.
Rather than raise the tax or find some other stable source of revenue, Congress has borrowed $54 billion in general funds since 2008. The House Transportation Committee projects that as much as $15 billion would be needed to extend the highway fund for just one year.
The Republican proposal would eliminate the delivery of first class and bulk mail on Saturdays. Packages, priority and express mail deliveries would continue, and post offices would stay open on Saturdays. The plan would save $10 billion over 10 years _ funds that would help offset a one-year extension of surface transportation programs.
House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Whip Kevin McCarthy noted in a memo to GOP members that the postal service overhaul was supported by both the House majority and the Obama administration anyway.
“We firmly believe that this is the best way to ensure continued funding of highway projects in a fiscally responsible manner that implements a needed structural reform to a growing federal liability,” they wrote.
But some Democrats called the plan highway robbery.
“If House Republicans want to prevent a taxpayer bailout of the Postal Service, they should focus on passing comprehensive postal reform legislation, not shirking the responsibility of making tough decisions regarding the future of our nation’s infrastructure,” said Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who said he prefers long-term solutions for both the postal service and the highway fund.
States actually plan their transportation projects for five or six years at a time, not just one. And states depend on the federal program to reimburse them for 52 percent of their highway and bridge investments, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.
Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Trucking Associations strongly support increasing the gasoline tax, but neither their traditional Republican allies in Congress nor the Obama administration have committed to it.