Transportation cuts not acceptable, senators say

| Thursday, July 21, 2011

Funding cuts for transportation as proposed by the U.S. House are not acceptable, members of a Senate committee said Thursday, July 21, even though the bill they’re offering as an alternative does not yet have a funding mechanism and a fuel-tax increase seems out of reach.

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are equally critical of the 36 percent cut in transportation funding offered in the six-year, $230 billion transportation authorization proposal offered by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The Senate’s counter measure calls for a two-year transportation bill at a cost of $109 billion.

Senate EPW Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-CA, said it’s clear to her and the rest of the committee that transportation should not be cut short.

“If you can’t move people and you can’t move goods, you’re just not going to grow,” she said.

The committee’s ranking Republican, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, is typically among the most conservative lawmakers in the Senate. However, he agrees with Boxer on the need for transportation levels to be maintained.

At the same time, Inhofe offered a dose of reality that the committee – as well as Senate Finance Committee and others – must come to terms with.

“We must acknowledge that our proposal to fund the highway program at current levels would result in a $12 billion shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund,” Inhofe stated.

“Before we proceed to mark up, I must insist that the Finance Committee has identified a bipartisan way of filling this hole. It is unwise to push an unfunded proposal to spend over $100 billion at the same time the nation is singularly focused on cutting trillions of dollars in spending.”

The White House continues to say that raising fuel taxes is off the table, but has so far left the door open for other types of tax and fee increases to support the Highway Trust Fund.

Even as the funding debate heats up, the proposals by the House and the Senate are just that – proposals – and are not actual bills at this time.

Boxer said her committee hopes to mark up at least the highways portion of the transportation bill before senators leave for the August recess.

OOIDA supports a strong federal role in transportation when it comes to infrastructure funding. But the Association and truckers across the nation are waiting to see more details of the specific House and Senate proposals, including motor carrier safety provisions, before forming opinions.

One panelist at Thurday’s hearing, American Highway Users Alliance President Greg Cohen, notes on his website that Congress has failed to pass a major surface transportation bill for 659 days.

When asked which of the two transportation plans the highway users preferred, Cohen told the Senate EPW Committee he sides with the Senate version. Even though it’s shorter in duration, it maintains rather than cuts federal funding, he said.

A finalized transportation bill will most likely be a compromise or combination of policies and programs from both bills. There’s still a long way to go in the process before it becomes law.

At least so far, the House and Senate versions already agree on a few things. Both call for the consolidation of federal transportation programs and for an increase in federal loans for innovative transportation projects that relieve congestion. They also call for an increase in private-sector involvement in infrastructure.

See related story:
Senators call for two-year transportation bill