Highway Trust Fund:

Possible Impact if It Had Financed All Highway Expenditures

RCED-98-78R: Published: Feb 6, 1998. Publicly Released: Feb 24, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Highway Trust Fund, focusing on what the Highway Trust Fund highway account would be if it had financed not only the federal-aid highway program, but other federal highway expenditures that have historically been paid from the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury.

GAO noted that: (1) of the 3.9 million miles of public roads in the United States, 953,009 miles are considered eligible for funding through the Highway Trust Fund; (2) although these roads represent only a quarter of the total road street mileage, they accounted for 85 percent of the vehicle miles traveled in 1995; (3) in addition, highways have received federal support from the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury provided through various other federal agencies and programs; (4) over the years, new or different roads have also been added to the list of roads funded by the Highway Trust Fund; (5) from fiscal year (FY) 1957 through FY 1996, the Federal Highway Administration's (FHwA) data indicate that the Highway Trust Fund's highway account was credited with $320.1 billion in tax receipts and $20.2 billion in interest and had expenditures of $328.7 billion; (6) of note is the fact that the expenditures exceeded the tax receipts during this period; (7) however, the interest accrued on the highway account balance was able to cover the difference as well as result in a positive balance of $11.6 billion; (8) from FY 1957 through FY 1996, General Fund Highway expenses totalled $39.3 billion; (9) if these expenses had been paid through the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund, the interest that would not have been earned by the highway account or would have been due to the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury would have totalled $124.9 billion; (10) together, General Fund expenses and interest not earned by the highway account or due to the General Fund would have totalled $164.2 billion; (11) if this amount were deducted from the actual FY 1996 highway account balance of $11.6 billion, the highway account balance reflecting the impact of not paying any highway expenditures from the General Fund would have been a negative $152.7 billion; and (12) while this analysis shows a negative balance, FHwA notes that this could not have occurred because: (a) there is a legislative requirement designed to ensure that sufficient funds will be available to liquidate commitments; and (b) Congress would probably have increased revenues or adjusted authorizations to prevent the shortfall.

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