Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct an error.
PIERRE — Congress is doing it to us again. Leaving us dangle, that is. The federal highway program expires Sept. 30. What will happen isn't clear.
But here are three sets of facts to consider.
South Dakota is one of the states that benefits most. Our state Department of Transportation receives more in federal highway aid than we motorists in South Dakota pay into the federal highway trust fund — which, by the way, seems to be financially broke.
We have, depending on the year, $250 million to $280 million at stake. That's fact set one. Here's the second.
A recent national survey of public opinion for the Rasmussen group found that 45 percent of adults answered yes to the following question: "Should the government cut back on spending for roads and highways until the federal budget is balanced?" The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted just a week ago on Aug. 20-21.
Here's fact set three. The chairman for the transportation committee in the U.S. House of Representatives is Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican. He has proposed that the new level of transportation funding be reduced by approximately one-third. His plan is based on the spending parameters set by the House Republicans' leadership.
We can see where this is heading. A Republican House majority whose leadership wants to spend less, a Democratic president running for re-election in 2012 who wants to spend more, and adults in the U.S. split, according to the Rasmussen numbers, with 45 percent favoring a cut, 40 percent opposing a cut and 16 percent neutral.
Congress, including our state's delegation, needs to address two matters. The federal highway program needs to be kept operating beyond Sept. 30. Secondly, Congress needs to listen to the General Accounting Office.
The GAO concluded in a June 2010 report that, from 2005 through 2008, every one of the 50 states received as much or more in highway funding than was paid by the state's motorists into the federal highway trust account.
South Dakota was among the top gainers at $2.35 received for every $1 paid. We trailed the District of Columbia at $5.63; Alaska $4.92; Rhode Island $2.91; Vermont $2.86; Montana $2.62; and North Dakota $2.42. Others getting more than $2 back for every $1 paid included Hawaii at $2.20 and West Virginia $2.10.
As they say, somebody has to pay. Congress did the usual trick and spent money it didn't have. After the federal highway fund ran out of money in 2008, Congress appropriated general funds to cover the difference. From fiscal 2008 through 2010, Congress transferred $29.7 billion into the highway account.
In addition, Congress in 2009 appropriated $26.7 billion in stimulus funding for highways. The stimulus funding received by South Dakota helped mask difficulties here. Three years ago, then-Gov. Mike Rounds ordered the state Department of Transportation into preservation mode.
SDDOT pulled back, cutting money it had been sending to other agencies to help with their roads, and reduced spending on winter maintenance for plowing and sanding.
The state Transportation Commission approved those changes in winter maintenance. On Thursday, the commission received results from a customer-satisfaction survey conducted for SDDOT.
One of the oddities in the report was in regard to winter maintenance. In 2006, the previous time the survey was conducted, the satisfaction level for plowing, sanding and salting of roadways was 74 percent. This year, the satisfaction rate was 75 percent.
Chris Tatham, the executive vice president for the Kansas City-area consulting company that did the work for SDDOT, told the commission he found the stable level of satisfaction remarkable in light of how SDDOT had dramatically reduced winter services.