400 Transportation:Limit Highway Trust Fund Spending to Revenues

Savings in Millions of Dollars
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021
  • 2022
  • 2023
  • 2024
  • 2025
  • 2016-2020
  • 2016-2025


Savings based on revenue shortfalls reported for the highway trust funds in Congressional Budget Office, “Projections of Highway Trust Fund Accounts under CBO’s August 2014 Baseline.” 
The report contains shortfalls through 2024. We assumed the same rate of change in shortfalls (3 percent) for 2025 as projected for the 2017–2024 period.


Technical Notes on Scoring

CBO Baseline

Unless otherwise noted, calculations for savings for each recommendation relies on the most recent Congressional Budget Office baseline, as found in “An Update to the Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024,” published August 27, 2014, has been used.

Savings “Totals”

While totals for the five and 10 year savings are provided by section and for the complete set of recommendations, there are two reasons they should not be viewed as representing total savings for The Budget Book.

First, as noted in the introduction, The Heritage Foundation would recommend that the savings realized in the Function 050 Defense section would stay within the Department of Defense to strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities.

Second, the numbers cannot be deemed to represent the realized savings if every single recommendation were adopted because policy changes made in one program can impact spending levels in other programs.  Thus, the numbers in the table do not reflect any potential interactions between the various policy changes affecting spending or savings.


Heritage Recommendation:

Limit Highway Trust Fund (HTF) spending to the level of revenue collected. This proposal saves approximately $17 billion in 2016, and $179 billion over 10 years.1


Families budget & balance their checkbooks, time for the Highway Trust fund to do the same.
Federal gasoline and diesel taxes are passed on to motorists, bus operators, and truckers at the pump, and then deposited into the federal HTF along with related fees. Past federal highway authorization bills increased HTF spending levels, permitting Congress to spend down the fund’s accumulated balance. Beginning in 2008, Congress was spending more out of the HTF than was brought in as revenue. Since 2008, Congress has repeatedly bailed out the HTF by transferring amounts from the Treasury’s General Fund, for a total bailout of about $62 billion. A six-year reauthorization bill would need to fill a $90 billion gap between spending and revenue ($15 billion a year).Going forward, inflation, fuel economy standards, vehicle efficiency, and steady levels of vehicle miles traveled will mean lower or stagnant levels of revenue deposited into the HTF. But until recently, inflation and overspending have been the main drivers of decreased revenue and purchasing power. Congress diverts at least 25 percent of HTF dollars to non-road, non-bridge projects, including bicycle (( Congressional Budget Office, “Projections of Highway Trust Fund Accounts under CBO’s August 2014 Baseline,
(accessed December 12, 2014). )) and nature paths, sidewalks, subways and buses, landscaping, and related low-priority and purely local activities.

Congress should limit HTF spending to revenues collected and refocus the federal highway program to encompass only Interstate Highway System maintenance and expansion, and a few other federal priorities, letting the states or private sector take over the other activities if they value them. Doing so would free up valuable HTF money for road and bridge projects that will benefit those motorists paying for the program in the first place.

Families budget & balance their checkbooks, time for the Highway Trust fund to do the same.

Contributing Expert

Emily Goff advances conservative solutions to transportation and infrastructure challenges as policy analyst in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

See publications by Emily Goff

Emily GoffPolicy Analyst, Transportation and Infrastructure

Heritage Expert

Diane Katz, who has analyzed and written on public policy issues for more than two decades, is a research fellow in regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation.

See publications by Diane Katz

Diane KatzResearch Fellow in Regulatory Policy

Additional Reading