For years, Albany has raided the state’s highway trust fund, using general tax revenue to patch holes. This year, the governor’s budget, as filed in the Senate and Assembly, includes a mammoth $625 million road bailout, larger than the $519 million projected in the financial plan and higher than most trust fund bailouts in previous years.
The Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund, created in 1991 using fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, is meant to pay for road construction and repair. By 1993, it was already being used to pay off Thruway Authority debt. Soon enough, it was raided to pay for road plowing and DMV salaries. Through 2008, only one third of the fund’s revenue was used to cover capital costs, according to Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
A bill to keep highway trust fund revenue from being diverted has stalled in the Assembly. Even that bill, however, wouldn’t solve the underlying problem: New York is spending more on roads than it collects in fuel taxes, tolls, and fees. (All told, federal and state gas taxes and automobile fees pay for only 54 percent of New York’s state and local bridge and road spending, according to the non-profit Tax Foundation.)
“Raids from dedicated revenue streams and general fund transfers are not funding solutions,” said Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “They are last resort measures when new revenue sources are not being considered.”
In the meantime, the trust fund raids continue, pushing more of the burden for supporting highways from drivers to all taxpayers, including the 54 percent of New York City households that don’t even own a car.