Auditors: All States Receive Extra Highway Money
By Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer
|Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office|
For every dollar Alaskans paid in federal gas taxes, the feds chipped in another $3.99, more than for any other state. Texas was a different story. For every dollar its drivers paid, the federal government added just three cents.
The data, released by the Government Accountability Office , highlights one of the most vexing transportation problems on Capitol Hill: The federal gas tax is not taking in enough money to meet its current commitments. The reason every state received more than it contributed is because, since 2008, Congress has added other money to the highway trust fund three times.
The state-by-state breakdown was requested by Congress as it tries, yet again, to fashion a longer-term plan to support surface transportation. Progress is anything but guaranteed, especially considering Congress has relied on stopgap measures since the last major highway bill expired in 2009. But tallies for individual states are important to lawmakers, who want to know how their states fared under the current formula.
The GAO auditors, however, cautioned against relying solely on that metric. "Using rate of return as a major factor in determining federal highway funding levels," agency analysts wrote, "is at odds with re-examining and restructuring federal surface transportation programs so that performance and accountability for results is factored into transportation investment decisions."
That holds true even when Congress sets up rules to distribute highway money on data and other performance factors. Those formulas, the GAO reported, "are ultimately not meaningful, because they are overridden by other provisions designed to yield a largely predetermined outcome — that of returning revenues to their attributed state of origin."
And once states get their hands on the money, they can use much of it for purposes other than what it was originally intended for. "This flexibility, coupled with a rate-of-return orientation," the GAO concluded, "essentially means that the Federal-Aid Highway Program functions, to some extent, as a cash transfer, general purpose grant program."