October 21, 2021

New England could get less federal highway money

WASHINGTON – Massachusetts would lose more than $37 million in federal highway funding next year under a proposal that would change the government’s formula for distributing transportation dollars, according to a report by New York University researchers.

Under the NYU analysis, Maine’s federal funding would drop by $181,802 on a total contribution of about $183 million.

The report, published earlier this week, analyzes a proposal from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and the States’ Highway Alliance for Real Equity, a lobbying group for states that contribute more to the federal Highway Trust Fund than they receive from the fund.

Massachusetts’ returns from the fund have varied over the years. Since Congress adjusted the distribution formulas in 1998, Massachusetts has been a “donor” state, collecting only 95 cents for every dollar its residents pay in federal gas taxes. But the NYU report also found that for the period from 1957 to 2002, Massachusetts collected $1.32 for every dollar it sent to Washington. And in the 2002 transportation budget, the state broke even, receiving more than $593 million.

Most transportation experts expect Congress will appropriate more money for transportation this year, but if the SHARE proposal passed into law and the level of funding remained the same, Massachusetts’ return would drop to 94 cents for every gas tax dollar.

“The Northeast in general is hurt the most by the SHARE proposal,” said Allison L. C. de Cerreno, one of the report’s authors. “We have 18 states that would lose funding under the SHARE proposal, and the vast majority are in the Northeast, including the entire New England region. Generally, the ones going up are concentrated in the South and to some degree the West.”

The report says that under the proposal, New York would suffer the largest decline, with its share dropping by more than $300 million to a total of $1.33 billion, while Connecticut would lose $163 million to lower its share to $325 million. The biggest increase would go to California, which would increase its share by $162 million to $3.09 billion. DeLay’s home state of Texas would increase its portion by $119 million to $2.63 billion.

Transportation officials in the “donor” states contend the new system would be more equitable.

“Certainly in Texas, and I think in most other states, we’re very willing to be blood donors, we just don’t want to be organ donors,” said David Soileau, a legislative affairs official for the Texas Department of Transportation. “At a time when the economy is bad and everyone needs everything they can get, there ought to be a limit on how much transportation money states have to export.”

Soileau said that a provision of the SHARE plan, which increases the percentage of states’ total contribution that they are guaranteed to get back from 90.5 percent to 95 percent, is aimed at helping sparsely populated states like Maine.

But Rep. Michael A. Capuano, D-Mass., the only Massachusetts legislator on the House Transportation Committee, calls the 95 percent limit “shortsighted.”

“If you want to work that out over a period of time, like 10 years, you can make an argument for it,” Capuano said of the 95 percent cap. “But not all states have the same needs, and some should be ‘donors’ and some should be ‘donees.’ If every state is going to be getting back almost all of what they put in, what do you need the federal government for?”

Under the NYU report’s projections of the SHARE plan, New Hampshire’s allocation would drop by $24 million to $139 million; Vermont’s allocation would drop by $24 million to $129 million, and Rhode Island’s share would drop $41 million to $153 million.

“This will pit one state against the other,” Capuano said. “I don’t know how it’s going to end up. It’s always more difficult to change a formula than it is to keep it the way it is, but even if it happens in the House, in the Senate there is a little more opportunity to prevent changes.”

DeLay’s proposal, filed on May 21, has 127 co-sponsors. House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, said the proposal “is moving in the right direction” and that he wants to increase the funding for the donor states “in a manner that doesn’t adversely affect the funding for the ‘donee’ states.” Alaska is the leading “donee” state, collecting $5.64 for every dollar it sends to Washington in gasoline taxes, according to the NYU report.

Whether the transportation funding issue will be resolved this year is up in the air.

The last overhaul bill, TEA-21, was passed seven months after its predecessor expired. Congressional leaders have pledged to get versions passed by the House and Senate by the end of July, and hope to have a compromise between their differing versions by the end of September.

But the president’s transportation funding proposal was way below what appropriators in both parties wanted, and Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis. and chairman of a key highways panel, said earlier this week that he would rather wait and pass a temporary extension of the current law than pass an inadequately funded bill.

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