Gas Tax Receipts Up, Truck Sales Down, and Aviation/Harbor Trust Funds Built Balances in 2017

Gas Tax Receipts Up, Truck Sales Down, and Aviation/Harbor Trust Funds Built Balances in 2017

October 20, 2017  | Jeff Davis

October 20, 2017

This week, the Treasury Department released the financial totals for federal trust fund accounts for the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2017. The reports for the various trust funds show how tax collections fared in FY 2017, as well as the outlays to various federal agencies.

Highway Trust Fund. When net total tax receipts (excluding interest and non-tax transfers) are compared with outlays, the Highway Trust Fund ran a $13.4 billion deficit in FY 2017, taking its end-of-year balance (beefed up by the $70 billion bailout in the FAST Act in FY 2016) from $69.2 billion down to $56.3 billion.

Gross receipts of gasoline taxes were $26.6 billion, which were up $466 million, or 1.8 percent, over 2016. (Gross is before transfers to environmental remediation and sport fishing trust funds.) And gross diesel fuel taxes were up $475 million (4.6 percent) over last year, to $10.7 billion. (Gross is before transfers to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund to guesstimate the use of highway taxed diesel/kerosene in airplanes.)

But receipts from the manufacturers excise tax on truck tractors and trailers dropped 27 percent ($1.15 billion), negating the fuel tax gain, so the total net tax receipts were $240 million (0.6 percent) below 2016. (Truck sales are the most volatile Highway Trust Fund tax – the big trucking companies tend to buy a lot of trucks and trailers at once, based on their financial situation, instead of spacing purchases of new equipment evenly every year.)

The Trust Fund earned $383 million in interest on the massive balances deposited by the FAST Act.¬†Transfers of highway funding to mass transit totaled $1.1 billion in 2017, the same as 2016. This is one again closer to the Congressional Budget Office’s annual plug-in guesstimate of $1.0 billion than to the Office of Management and Budget’s guesstimate of $1.3 billion.

Highway Trust Fund Cash Flow for Fiscal Year 2017

Preliminary and unaudited. Tax, interest and fine/penalty numbers from Treasury HTF Monthly Report for Sept. 2017; balance, outlay and transfer numbers from FHWA Table FE-1.
Highway Account Mass Transit Account Total HTF
Beginning-of-FY Balance $51,435,286,367 $17,782,389,509 $69,217,675,876
Tax Receipts
Gasoline and Related Fuels $22,445,873,865 $4,157,720,093 $26,603,593,957
Diesel and Other Fuels $9,474,575,190 $1,260,960,799 $10,735,535,989
Retail Tax on Trucks $3,117,447,612 $0 $3,117,447,612
Highway-Type Tire Tax $475,598,847 $0 $475,598,847
Heavy Vehicle Use Tax $1,206,150,735 $0 $1,206,150,735
(Kerosene Transfers to AATF) -$637,394,826 -$85,030,166 -$722,424,991
(Transfer to Land & Water TF) -$842,000 -$158,000 -$1,000,000
(Transfer to Sport Fish TF) -$382,904,000 -$47,840,000 -$430,744,000
Net Tax Receipts $35,698,505,423 $5,285,652,727 $40,984,158,150
Interest, Fines and Penalties
Interest Income $281,298,256 $101,900,766 $383,199,022
Safety Fines & Penalties $35,006,595 $0 $35,006,595
Subtotal, Interest/Safety $316,304,851 $101,900,766 $418,205,617
Transfers to HTF From Outside
General Fund Transfers $0 $0 $0
LUST Trust Fund Transfers $93,100,000 $0 $93,100,000
Subtotal, Outside Transfers $93,100,000 $0 $93,100,000
Transfers Between HTF Accounts
HTF-HA to HTF-MTA Transfers -$1,174,500,000 $1,174,500,000 $0
HTF-MTA to HTF-HA Transfers $51,644,385 -$51,644,385 $0
Subtotal, Internal Transfers -$1,122,855,615 $1,122,855,615 $0
Outlays -$44,977,292,152 -$9,442,359,218 -$54,419,651,370
End-of-FY Balance $41,443,048,874 $14,850,439,399 $56,293,488,273
Outlays vs. Net Tax Receipts -$9,278,786,729 -$4,156,706,491 -$13,435,493,220

A look at the last five years shows that net tax receipts have stabilized in the ballpark of $41 billion per year for the last three years while outlays for FY 2016 and 2017 have been around $54 billion per year.

Highway Trust Fund Cash Flow Over the Last Five Years
(Millions of dollars)
FY 2013 FY 2014 FY 2015 FY 2016 FY 2017
Beginning-of-FY Balance 14,925 6,263 14,846 11,910 69,218
Tax Receipts
Gasoline and Related Fuels 23,463 24,992 25,372 26,138 26,604
Diesel and Other Fuels 9,469 10,184 10,339 10,260 10,736
Retail Tax on Trucks 3,197 3,645 4,554 4,266 3,117
Highway-Type Tire Tax 359 447 501 478 476
Heavy Vehicle Use Tax 1,091 945 1,150 1,188 1,206
(Kerosene Transfers to AATF) -671 -729 -680 -675 -722
(Transfer to Land & Water TF) -1 -1 -1 -1 -1
(Transfer to Sport Fish TF) -459 -451 -447 -429 -431
Net Tax Receipts 36,448 39,032 40,789 41,224 40,984
Interest, Fines and Penalties
Interest Income 6 4 2 124 383
Safety Fines & Penalties 15 19 24 120 35
Subtotal, Interest/Safety 22 22 26 243 418
Transfers to HTF From Outside
General Fund Transfers 5,884 21,458 8,068 70,000 0
LUST Trust Fund Transfers 0 1,000 0 100 93
Subtotal, Outside Transfers 5,884 22,458 8,068 70,100 93
Outlays -51,015 -52,927 -51,820 -54,258 -54,420
End-of-FY Balance 6,263 14,846 11,910 69,219 56,294
Outlays vs. Net Tax Receipts -14,568 -13,896 -11,031 -13,034 -13,435

(For a chart with a visual representation of the last 20 years of Highway Trust Fund obligations, tax receipts, and bailouts, see this related article in this week’s issue.)

Airport and Airway Trust Fund. The aviation trust fund increased its cash balance once again in 2017. Tax receipts were $15.1 billion and interest on the $14.3 billion beginning-of-year balance totaled $321 million, which was narrowly more than the $15.2 billion in outlays, for a year-end balance of $14.5 billion.

Treasury reporting on the specifics of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund taxes is singularly unhelpful, for this reason: Treasury lumps the receipts of the 7.5 percent excise tax on airfares together with the receipts of the $4.10 per passenger-segment fee and the $9.00 per flight fee for flights between the lower 48 states and Alaska/Hawaii, and it calls this category “transportation of individuals.” Receipts from the two head charges move up or down based purely on passenger volume, but receipts from the ticket tax depend on both volume and the fares charged by airlines – two very different things that often have very different trendlines. But Treasury reports the data in a way that makes it impossible to see the trendlines from the tax receipts. (If anyone at Treasury is reading this, please consider breaking down the tax reporting in a more helpful way.)

Totals for the “transportation of individuals” category were 1.6 percent above last year’s totals. But receipts form the $18 per passenger international arrival-departure tax were up 13.2 percent over last year, indicating a booming tourism sector. The other taxes (air cargo, the fuel taxes) don’t add up to much compared to the various airfare and passenger head taxes.

Airport and Airway Trust Fund

(Millions of dollars. Treasury reporting of balances excludes uninvested balances held by program agencies, which were about $440 million at the beginning of FY 2017.)
FY 2013 FY 2014 FY 2015 FY 2016 FY 2017
Beginning-of-FY Balance 10,917 12,820 13,657 13,676 14,330
Tax Receipts
Transportation of individuals 8,769 9,286 9,838 9,910 10,069
Use of international facilities 2,911 3,198 3,311 3,396 3,844
Transportation of cargo 619 465 497 476 505
Jet fuel 549 538 597 593 622
Aviation gasoline/other 15 27 30 30 23
Jet fuel used by fractionals 9 15 15 15 17
Refunds -18 -16 -19 -13 -25
Net tax receipts 12,854 13,513 14,268 14,406 15,055
Interest on balances etc 234 271 295 287 321
Outlays -11,184 -12,946 -14,544 -14,040 -15,234
End-of-FY Balance 12,820 13,657 13,676 14,330 14,472
Result of Operations +1,903 +837 +19 +654 +141

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Despite the best efforts of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to force the rest of Congress to “spend down” some of the collected balances built up by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund over the years, those balances grew once again in FY 2017 by $322 million. The HMTF started the year with a balance of $8.8 billion, and the $1.4 billion in tax receipts from the Harbor Maintenance Tax were not matched by spending, which totaled $1.1 billion.

The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund

(Millions of dollars. Excludes uninvested balances held by program agencies.)
FY 2013 FY 2014 FY 2015 FY 2016 FY 2017
Beginning-of-FY Balance* 6,950.0 7,936.0 8,499.1 8,751.2 8,827.8
Income
HMT/Customs Duties 1,523.3 1,510.4 1,429.0 1,310.5 1,388.2
Interest 172.7 65.9 63.0 60.7 83.7
Total Income 1,696.0 1,576.3 1,492.0 1,371.2 1,471.9
Outlays
Corps of Engineers -855.2 -979.0 -1,204.6 -1,262.9 -1,110.9
Customs Service -3.3 -3.3 -3.3 -3.3 -3.3
St. Lawrence Seaway -30.6 -31.0 -32.0 -28.4 -36.0
Total Outlays -889.0 -1,013.3 -1,239.9 -1,294.6 -1,150.2
End-of-FY Balance 7,757.0 8,499.1 8,751.2 8,827.8 9,149.5
Result of Operations +807.0 +563.0 +252.1 +76.6 +321.7
*There was a balance correction of $179.0 million in an upwards direction between the end of FY 2013 and the start of FY 2014 per the Treasury Department.

Because spending from the HMTF is classified as discretionary and is subject to the annual (sequestration-enforced) cap on non-defense discretionary spending in the Budget Control Act, increasing HMTF spending to spend down balances has to compete with many other priorities. For more information on how the HMTF got to this state of affairs, see this background piece from last year.

Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The smallest transportation trust fund also increased its (small) balance slightly in 2017. Receipts from the inland waterway barge diesel fuel tax increased to $114 million in 2017, and outlays on Corps of Engineers inland waterway projects were $108 million.

Inland Waterways Trust Fund

(Millions of dollars. Excludes uninvested balances held by program agencies.)
FY 2013 FY 2014 FY 2015 FY 2016 FY 2017
Beginning-of-FY Balance 53.3 40.8 24.7 54.2 57.4
Barge Diesel Tax Receipts 75.1 81.7 97.9 110.9 113.7
Interest 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.2 0.7
Outlays -87.6 -97.9 -68.5 -108.0 -108.4
End-of-FY Balance 40.8 24.7 54.2 57.4 63.4
Result of Operations -12.5 -16.1 +29.5 +3.1 +6.0

(Ed. Note: The barge diesel tax rate was increased significantly in FY 2015. For information on why and how, see this article I wrote in December 2014, which is among my most favorite pieces of work, ever: How to Get A Transportation User Tax Increase Through the House of Representatives.)

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