SPECIAL REPORT: Spending bill would block funds for Mexican trucks

| 12/17/2007

Monday, Dec. 17, 2007 – A provision designed to block Mexican motor carriers from having open access to U.S. highways is one of several trucking-related provisions that cleared a hurdle during the weekend in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Along with the measure to stop funding for the cross-border program for a year, another provision that would block the tolling of federal highways in Texas also survived the House Committee on Appropriations and has been sent to the full House.

The massive appropriations bill that includes the cross-border and tolling provisions has been put on a fast track on Capitol Hill and the full House could vote on it as early as Tuesday. Then, if approved by the full House, it will go to a Senate committee, the full Senate and then on to President Bush for final approval.

The House Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Rep. David Obey, D-WI, spent the weekend trimming down the appropriations bill to meet President Bush’s demands to cut spending.

Obey said the appropriations legislation “shortchanges” highway infrastructure and cuts renewable energy programs, education grants and health care programs.

“The omnibus appropriations bill is totally inadequate to meet the long-term investment needs of the country, but it is a whole lot better than the country would have without a Democratic Congress,” Obey stated in a press release.

House Appropriations Committee members emerged Sunday night with a $515 billion bill that includes, among many other things, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2008. The entire appropriations omnibus bill is 1,482 pages, with 175 pages devoted to the transportation and housing appropriations.

The following language was included in a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spending provision:

“None of the funds made available under this Act may be used to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico.”

The inclusion pleases Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association officials who worked throughout 2007 with Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-KS; Duncan Hunter, R-CA; and Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, on three separate bills to get the cross-border program with Mexico stopped.

“It’s reassuring that after all of the political wrangling and maneuvering associated with the 2008 spending bills, Congress has seen fit to retain the provisions that will remove funding for the pilot program,” Rod Nofziger, OOIDA Director of Government Affairs, told Land Line. “We certainly aren’t convinced the pilot program should go forward, and neither are they.”

OOIDA officials are also pleased that a provision originating as an amendment offered by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, made it into the House committee’s version of the appropriations bill.

The provision states that “None of the funds made available in the Act shall be used to consider or approve an application to permit the imposition or collection of any toll on any portion of a federal highway facility in the state of Texas.”

OOIDA Senior Government Affairs Representative Mike Joyce said Hutchison’s language is a step in the right direction against interstate tolling.

“Of course, we would have preferred this provision to cover all interstates nationwide, including a prohibition on the tolling of I-80 in Pennsylvania,” Joyce told Land Line. “Even so, we believe the Hutchison language sends a very strong message to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration and state governments looking closely at tolling existing highways.”

The Texas provision does not apply to new construction. It would, however, prohibit the state of Texas from “purchasing” an interstate from the federal government if tolls would be imposed on it.

Federal agencies have been operating on temporary budgets since Oct. 1.

The House is scheduled to recess Friday, Dec. 21, and members will not return to Capitol Hill until the first week of January 2008.

– By David Tanner, staff writer