Postal service on Saturday or paying for pothole patching?
That’s the latest choice posed by House Republican leaders looking for ways to pump a bit of cash into the soon-to-be broken federal Highway Trust Fund. It comes down to fewer mail trucks rolling on Saturdays or less federal support for highway work seven days a week.
The fund is expected to run short by late July or early August, meaning no money for new road projects and will likely interrupt some construction already under way.
The fund has been periodically going dry for several years, the victim of fuel economy. As we buy fewer gallons of gas for our Priuses, less money goes into the fund from the gas tax. Congress has had to transfer $54 billion of general tax money into the fund since 2008 to help keep the bulldozers and steamrollers rolling.
The federal gas tax rate hasn’t changed from the 18.4 cents a gallon rate (24.4 for diesel fuel) since 1993, but any proposal to raise it of course hits a quick political off-ramp.
So, the latest proposal from House Republican leaders, laid out in a memo sent to the GOP caucus over the weekend, calls for tapping savings from the U.S. Postal Service by ending most Saturday delivery – packages, medicine and express mail would still be dropped off, and post offices still would have Saturday hours.
The move would save $10.7 billion over 10 years, but would meet offset rules so Congress could transfer that much into the trust fund right away. Combined with $1.3 billion from another trust fund that pays to fix leaky underground oil tanks, the proposal would keep the highway fund in the black through next May.
Although President Barack Obama has proposed cutting Saturday delivery, too, many congressional Democrats are flat against the postal option, complaining it would solve neither the USPS’ nor the trust fund’s long-term money problems.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee from both parties are slated to have a “no-staff” closed door huddle later this week to try and come up with better ideas for keeping federal highway tax dollars flowing beyond August and into the fall.