Transportation, jobs at forefront for Congress after break

| 9/2/2011

U.S. House and Senate transportation leaders say they’ll work together to pass a short-term extension of transportation programs to protect the economy and jobs, but after that, it’s back to the trenches to hammer out a longer-term plan and funding mechanism.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-CA, told reporters by phone on Thursday, Sept. 1, that 1.8 million jobs are at stake if Congress fails to pass a temporary short-term extension for transportation that would last through Jan. 31, 2012. Her remarks came a day after President Obama called on Congress to make the surface transportation extension a priority when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next week. Congress must also work to extend the Federal Aviation Administration at the same time.

Boxer sent a letter to each member of the Senate complete with numbers of endangered jobs for each state should the transportation extension fail to pass.

She also took the opportunity to speak of the need to extend the federal government’s authority to collect fuel taxes on gasoline and diesel. Like the current transportation program, the traditional funding mechanism for the Highway Trust Fund expires Sept. 30 along with the heavy vehicle use tax, tire taxes and other user fees that truckers and highway users pay.

“If we don’t act to send this bill – and the gas tax, it all goes with it – we are looking at a job loss that this country cannot sustain,” Boxer said. “We cannot take nearly 2 million jobs out of this economy at this time.”

Technically, the current transportation program expired in September 2009, but Congress has passed short-term stopgap measures seven times since then to keep federal and state DOTs operating.

Boxer said she is optimistic that her committee will take up a short-term extension on Sept.8 and that it will buy enough time for Congress to take up a longer-term bill, dubbed MAP-21, that her committee is also working on. Boxer admits there is a catch in getting a longer-term bill passed because Congress still lacks a funding mechanism to sustain the Highway Trust Fund beyond next year.

“We have enough funding in the Trust Fund to get us through at current levels until September 2012. There’s no argument about that,” Boxer told reporters. “On the longer term bill, there’ll be a huge argument. We’ll have that argument on the longer bill.”

Meanwhile, U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-FL, believes the short-term extension is a likely first order of business next week.

“In the interest of getting Americans back to work and moving vital transportation legislation, Republicans are committed to working with the President and Congressional Democrats,” Mica said in a statement.

But the chairman also tossed a few barbs.

“During their (Democratic) control, they neglected aviation legislation for more than four years and left major transportation legislation in the ditch for more than a year.”

Mica said Republicans have offered “positive and financially responsible alternatives” for transportation. He then added some conditions for consideration.

“As Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, I will agree to one additional highway program extension, this being the eighth ... I am returning to Washington to also consult with our Republican leadership before granting the 22nd FAA extension.”

OOIDA is urging Congress to take the opportunity to focus transportation dollars on highways and bridges as lawmakers work toward long-term reforms.

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