White House says 'underinvestment' for transportation must come to an end

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 6/1/2015

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced over the weekend that President Obama was on board for signing a short, two-month extension for transportation funding into law. However, Earnest said short-term patches do not serve the economy or the American people and that Congress must work toward a long-term transportation bill.

Earnest said Friday, May 29, that the president was ready to sign HR2353 into law, avoiding a May 31 deadline that would have seen federal transportation grants and programs go unfunded.

The bill extends funding and policy through July 31, and then it’s up to Congress to extend it again or get something more long-term in place for roads, bridges, transit and other infrastructure as well as highway and motor carrier safety programs.

Earnest said, according to a White House transcript, that this is an unprecedented 33rd short-term extension for federal Highway Trust Fund programs since 2008.

“Democrats and Republicans acknowledge that investments in infrastructure are critical to our economy, both over the long term but also in terms of the short-term impact that they could have to strengthen our economy and create jobs,” Earnest said. “But these kinds of short-term patches are also not beneficial to our economy.”

Uncertainty, he said, delays about $2 billion worth of projects.

“That’s $2 billion fewer dollars going into our economy in the form of paychecks for workers, in the form of contracts going to small businesses, in the form of investments that we know would derive a much larger economic benefit for communities across the country if they benefited from a modern, efficient, upgraded transportation infrastructure,” Earnest said, according to the transcript.

“So it’s the president’s view that the era of short-term patches and chronic under-investment in our transportation infrastructure must come to an end,” he said. “The president has put forward a commonsense proposal for closing loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and well-connected, and using revenue from that tax reform to making investments in the kind of infrastructure that benefit everybody. And the president is willing to continue to urge Congress to take steps in that direction, again, not because it’s the president’s preference – although it is – but because of the important benefits for our economy.”

Earlier this year, the White House unveiled a six-year, $478 billion transportation bill called the GROW AMERICA ACT – Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America Act.

In May, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced GROW AMERICA into Congress.

Other committees and members of Congress have ideas for transportation as well. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., announced that it will be marking up a six-year transportation bill sometime in June. Details of that bill have yet to be announced.

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