Highway bill draws $45 million in lobbying

| 9/16/2009

Special interest groups have spent $45 million lobbying federal lawmakers so far in 2009 on issues relating to the next highway authorization bill, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

The center published its latest report on Wednesday, Sept. 16, saying the cash spent lobbying for transportation has rivaled that of climate change.

What it boils down to, according to OOIDA’s government affairs staff in Washington, DC, is that without having a dog in the fight, the interests of professional truckers could get buried in all of the noise.

“This shows what OOIDA is up against on a daily basis,” said OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Rod Nofziger.
“In DC, it is very easy to get lost in the crowd, because the crowd here is much larger than most people across the country realize.”

The message to truckers is to stay involved and show resolve, because there are hundreds of other groups pushing to move funding around or to change the regulations at every turn.

“In my personal and professional opinion, the best way to make your voice heard over all the noise is to be engaged not only with our presence in Washington, DC, but to have truckers all over the country calling and contacting their lawmakers on a regular basis,” Nofziger told Land Line Magazine.

“That helps trucking stay in the forefront on some of these issues.”

This has been a big year for transportation, with House lawmakers rolling out a prototype in June of what the next five-or six-year highway authorization bill could look like. For starters, members of Congress believe the highway bill could cost $450 billion to $500 billion to fund. Compare that to the 2005 highway bill known as SAFETEA-LU that cost $286 billion to fund.

Groups backed by construction, manufacturing, education, railroad, maritime, transit and aviation industries are among those competing to influence transportation, Nofziger said.

“The highway bill is the mother of all transportation and trucking bills, because it covers not only highway funding matters for the next several years, but will also affect for good or bad highway safety and trucking regulations,” he said.

As simply as it can be put, OOIDA’s role in this authorization year is to keep good things in the bill for truckers and to keep the bad things out.

Nofziger says it’s about choosing when to play offense and when to play defense, but both are equally important.

“On a regular basis, outside of a highway bill, we’re forced to spend more of our time playing defense rather than offense because there are organizations pushing to get something passed,” he said.

Many cities, counties and regions have lobbyists to try to obtain authority or funding for specific projects.

The Center for Public Integrity reported that 475 U.S. cities and 160 counties in 44 states have sought funds for specific projects in the past nine months.

The center’s report is timely, the authors stated, because the existing SAFETEA-LU law is set to expire Sept. 30 as the House and Senate continue to debate both a short-term and long-term future for transportation programs.

– By David Tanner, staff writer