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Germany does not have a national highway fund.  Federal highways are funded by the federation through a combination of general revenue and receipts from tolls imposed on truck traffic.  The revenues from the German taxes on gasoline and motor vehicle registration accrue to the federation, yet they are not tied to highway maintenance or construction.  Plans for requiring passenger cars to pay tolls on federal highways are under discussion.

I.  Introduction

Germany differentiates between federal, state, and municipal roads and highways.  Federal highways consist of the long-distance interstate highways (Autobahnen), major divided four-lane highways that connect to the interstate system, and some thoroughfares through local communities.[1]  Most other highways and roads belong to the states, except for the road systems of major municipalities, for which these municipalities are responsible.[2]  The federation is responsible for maintaining and constructing federal highways.  The states, on the other hand, have the responsibility of administering the federal highways within their territory, a task that they carry out under the supervision of the federation.[3]  This administrative responsibility includes setting up and maintaining the agencies that administer federal highway construction and maintenance.[4]

In accordance with the constitutional principle that each governmental body finances the expenditures for which it is responsible,[5] the federation bears the burden of financing the construction and maintenance of federal highways.  The states, on the other hand, are responsible for financing the administrative activities that relate to the federal highways and also for all expenditures connected to state highways and roads.

In the German fiscal system, revenue is generated primarily through taxes imposed through federal law.  The revenue from some of these taxes is either allocated exclusively to the federation, the states, or the municipalities, or is shared between these entities.  In particular, individual and corporate income tax and value-added tax revenues are shared.[6]

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II.  Funding for National Road Infrastructure

Germany does not have a dedicated fund for building and maintaining highways.  The annual federal budget, however, has a highway construction plan that describes ongoing and planned construction projects, and lists the revenues achieved by the federation that are tied to highway construction and maintenance.[7]  The most important of the tied revenues is the toll imposed on truck traffic on federal highways;[8] in addition, there is some miscellaneous income, such as fees and concessions.  The remainder of the needed funds for federal highway construction and maintenance comes from general revenue. 

Germany taxes gasoline consumption within the framework of an energy tax,[9] and the operation of motor vehicles through a motor vehicle tax. [10]  The revenue from both these taxes belongs to the federation.[11]  In popular opinion, these taxes serve to finance highway construction and maintenance, yet there is no legal requirement for limiting their use to these purposes.[12]  Until 2006 gasoline consumption was taxed through a mineral oil tax,[13] and part of the proceeds from this tax were tied to federal highway construction and maintenance.[14]  The mineral oil tax was repealed in 2006 with the enactment of the Energy Tax Act,[15] and the revenue from the latter is not tied to highway construction.

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III.  New Initiatives on Road Infrastructure

Germany has not contemplated alternative means of highway funding, such as a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax.  Instead, there has been an intense debate on the desirability of introducing tolls for passenger cars on federal highways.[16]  The most discussed option of the new toll scheme was to impose it only on passenger cars registered in other countries, on the theory that Germans already pay enough for automobile usage through the taxes on motor vehicles and gasoline.  To date, the proposal has stagnated owing to its potential incompatibility with European Union law.[17]  The governors of the German states would reportedly welcome the creation of a special highway construction fund to alleviate the current shortage of funding that is particularly felt in the states and municipalities, where many state roads and bridges are in disrepair.[18]

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IV. Conclusion

The German experience has shown that the financing of highway construction and maintenance is an urgent task that requires the country to look for new approaches to updating an aging infrastructure.  It is not quite clear what lessons can be drawn for the United States from the German experience, considering Germany’s geographical situation as a country with considerable transit traffic, the intertwined nature of fiscal and administrative relations between the states and the federation, and Germany’s adherence to EU requirements.

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Edith Palmer
Chief, Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Division II
March 2014

[1] Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland [Basic Law] art. 90, translation at; Bundesfernstrassengesetz [Federal Long-Distance Highway Act], repromulgated June 28, 2007, Bundesgesetzblatt [BGBl.] I at 1206, as amended, § 1,

[2] Robert Uerpmann-Wittzach, Verkehr, in 4 Handbuch des Staatsrechts 796 (Josef Isensee & Paul Kirchhof eds., 2006).

[3] Basic Law art. 90.

[4] Basic Law art. 85; Bundeshaushaltsplan 2013 [2013 Federal Budget], Strassenbauplan 2013 [Road Construction Plan 2013], ¶ 1210, p. 27, 2013/soll/Haushaltsplan-2013.pdf.

[5] Basic Law art. 104a.

[6] Basic Law art. 106.

[7] Strassenbaufinanzierungsgesetz [Highway Construction Financing Act], Mar. 28, 1960, BGBl. I at 201, as last amended by Verordnung, Oct. 31, 2006, BGBl. I at 2407, art. 3.

[8] Gesetz über die Erhebung von streckenbezogenen Gebühren für die Benutzung von Bundesautobahnen und Bundesstrassen [Federal Highway Toll Act], July 12, 2011, BGBl. I at 1378, § 11.

[9] Energiesteuergesetz [Energy Tax Act], July 15, 2006, BGBl. I at 1534, as amended, § 2.

[10] Kraftfahrzeugsteuergesetz [Motor Vehicle Tax Act], repromulgated Sept. 26, 2002, BGBl. I at 3818, as amended,

[11] Basic Law art. 106(1), Nos. 2 and 3.

[12] Walter Schulz, Handwerk kämpft für Meistertitel; ABRECHNUNG Beim Jahresempfang der Kreishandwerkschaft fielen deutliche Worte, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger 44 (Jan. 11, 2014), available at Lexis (by subscription).

[13] Mineralölsteuergesetz [Mineral Oil Tax Act], repromulgated Dec. 20, 1988, BGBl. I at 2277, as amended

[14] Highway Construction Financing Act art. 1.

[15] Energy Tax Act art. 3.

[16] Michail Hengstenberg, Streitthema Autobahngebühr: Seehofer erneuert Forderung nach Maut für Ausländer, Spiegel Online (Sept. 8, 2013),

[17] Id.

[18] Verkehrsministerkonfeenz – Milliarden für Sanierung marode Strassen, Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, (last visited Jan. 22, 2014).