The nation's governors are urging Congress to pass legislation that would offset the huge deficit projected for the highway trust fund in fiscal 2009.

The governors made the plea in a June 19 letter sent to House and Senate leaders that warns that failure to address the shortfall will force states to cut transportation spending by an amount equal to four times the trust fund deficit. This is due to the lag between state obligations and federal funding outlays.

"Enactment of a federal solution to this problem is necessary to preserve highway investment and provide the predictable, long-term federal funding on which highway projects and state transportation budgets depend," the governors said.

Federal legislation is needed now so states can plan transportation projects for the 2009 fiscal year, which starts July 1 for some states, the letter said.

Currently, federal highway and transit construction funds come from gas tax revenues, which are put into the highway trust fund and distributed to states annually. The federal Office of Management and Budget projects the highway account of the trust fund will be about $3.7 billion short at the start of fiscal 2009, while the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the deficit will be $1.1 billion.

"We are certainly very pleased that governors have weighed in to eliminate the deficit," Jack Basso, director of management and business development for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in Washington, said in a brief interview yesterday. "It's coming up against crunch time for getting this done."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and ranking minority member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa have sponsored an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration bill that would provide $8 billion in funding for the highway trust fund. The amendment seeks to restore $8 billion that was borrowed from the trust fund in 1998 and allocated into the federal government's general fund. The FAA bill must be approved by Congress by June 30, according to AASHTO officials.

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