SPECIAL REPORT: Rep. Young to Bush - advisers giving bum advice on highway veto

| 2/5/2004

In an unusual move against a sitting president from his own party, Rep. Don Young, R-AK, told President George W. Bush Feb. 4 that he was getting bad advice on highway legislation and should reconsider a recent veto threat.

In a Feb. 2 letter, Treasury Secretary John Snow and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta told congressional leaders in a letter that transportation spending should not rely on an increase in the federal gas tax or other taxes.

The letter also said spending should not be funded through bonds "that conceal the true cost to federal taxpayers." The letter went on to say highway spending should be paid for by its dedicated trust fund, not general government revenue.

"I am extremely disappointed with the 'take it or leave it' approach taken by your advisers," said Young, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, in a letter to Bush, which Land Line obtained. 

"They (the advisers) have provided no real alternatives to the problem faced by this Congress. I believe that we have a bicameral, bipartisan consensus that a much larger level of funding is needed for surface transportation than the bare bones approach presented in the administration's SAFETEA proposal. Solutions to these problems cannot be found by issuing edicts or veto threats," the Young letter said.

Bush has threatened to veto a number of bills during his term in office but has never rejected any legislation once approved by Congress. But according to press reports, the highway bill is viewed as an important early test for Bush on his drive this year to cut spending and impart new fiscal discipline.

Young and other key members of his committee favor an increase in the federal gasoline tax by 8 cents over six years – a proposal that has drawn vocal opposition from anti-tax conservatives.

However, Young insisted that creating a strong funding framework “will require consideration of all possible options, including traditional methods of funding as well as new and innovative methods. No option should be placed off limits for discussion.

"I strongly urge you to reach out for new and creative ways to address the funding of one of the most essential programs carried out by the federal government – the funding of highway and transit programs," Young concluded in his letter.

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dick_larsen@landlinemag.com.