National Highway Trust Fund

I was alerted to a news article from Reuters this week on the state of the bridges in the United States. The article is mostly about an analysis by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, a federation and lobbying group whose stated goal is to “aggressively grow and protect transportation infrastructure investment”. The curious part of the article is about the National Highway Trust Fund. This fund provides monies to states for road and bridge projects.

What is curious to me is the trust fund gets its income from taxes on gasoline and diesel sales. I had read a few years ago that gasoline sales were declining and decided I needed to update my knowledge.

The first stop was the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a government agency that holds data on retail sales of gasoline. The next stop was the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The result was a new post on The Analytical Road Data.

While I agree that gasoline sales have plunged since the economy went into recession in 2007, it does not seem to have had an effect on the National Highway Trust Fund balance. I broke down the cash flow statement of the trust fund further and noticed that tax receipts are stable. Then I looked at income from all sources and subtracted outlays (what I call Net Income in the graphic) and again noticed the stability of the data series.

The Reuters article mentions the National Highway Trust Fund will run out of funds at the end of this fiscal year (end of August 2014), but it does not mention why. Given the stability of tax receipts and the well managed nature of the expenditures, it doesn’t seem like the fund is in the danger brought forward by the Association.

Before I move away from this topic, the disconnect between the drop in gasoline sales and the tax receipts by the fund cannot go without further analysis. I’ll have to dive into the numbers of the fund to see exactly what the source is since it does not appear to be based on retail sales of gasoline.


Author: dmcnic

Educated as an economist, I now work as an Analytical Professional for a manufacturing firm. I have have a second job as a part-time lecturer at the University of Washington in Bothell. While all baseball interests me, the Mariners are my home town team. Married with one dog.

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