State of the Union 'bold' and optimistic, but is it realistic for transportation?

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 1/21/2015

President Obama’s State of the Union speech contained bold and optimistic language about economic recovery, energy independence, the war on terror, and improving transportation infrastructure. But are the president’s proposals realistic, or are they dead on arrival in the new Congress?

The president’s annual address on Tuesday, Jan. 21, has drawn mixed reactions in transportation circles.

The president steered clear of mentioning fuel taxes despite a push by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to have the discussion. Obama did address the need to pay for modernizing and expanding infrastructure using tax reforms.

“Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America,” he said. “Let’s use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home.”

Obama said the U.S. is producing more energy and from more sources than it has in the past. Like many presidents before him, Obama used the State of the Union to preach the benefits of energy independence.
“We are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years,” Obama said in the speech. “... We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power. Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.”

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill want energy independence to translate into transportation spending, and those proposals are not without partisanship. The president addressed that in his speech.

“Twenty-first century businesses need 21st century infrastructure – modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this,” Obama said. “So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.”

Not all lawmakers and interest groups view the president’s plans as bipartisan, or even realistic in a Republican-controlled Congress. But the president is required to bring a budget request forward in the next few weeks, which he says will focus on realistic goals rather than lofty spending. Whether Congress takes up the president’s request – which would be atypical of any Congress – remains to be seen.

Transportation may have gotten its fair shake in the speech but it was just one part of the State of the Union. Other parts of the speech could have an indirect effect on truckers and trucking companies.

Cheap or free tuition to community colleges is something for families to think about, and some of them offer truck-driver training. The president asked businesses to hire military veterans coming back from overseas, and history shows that many veterans choose trucking as a career.

Obama called for more to be done to allow Americans to sell and ship more products overseas, which could also have an effect on trucking and freight movement.

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