Thursday, June 25, 2009

House Dems Push Back On Obama Short-Term Transportation Plan

Jun 24: Following the release of the Committee Print on June 22 [See WIMS 6/23/09], the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit met and marked up and approved by voice vote the Print of the "Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009." The $500 billion bill authorizes the nation's surface transportation programs. The current authorization, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), expires on September 30, 2009. The bill will now go to the full committee for consideration sometime in July.

Full Committee Chair, James Oberstar (D-MN) said on release of the Committee Print that the bill, “lays out a plan to transform our surface transportation system so that it can meet today’s needs and tomorrow’s challenges. It restructures surface transportation programs to a performance-based framework to cut fatalities and injuries on our highways, bring highway, bridge, and public transit systems to a state of good repair, reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and support robust investment in our nation’s infrastructure.” Subcommittee Chair, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said the bill "provides our nation a vision and a path towards a 21st Century transportation system. It will make our highways safer, improve our roads and transit systems, make our businesses more competitive by reducing their costs due to time spent in traffic, and reduce the amount of time the average person spends in gridlock. This is an opportunity to move past broken policies of the past and move toward a more accountable and efficient future.”

The House action on the bill, is contrary to a June 17, request from U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood calling for an immediate, short-term 18-month highway reauthorization to replenish the Highway Trust Fund which may run out of money in late August [
See WIMS 6/18/09]. LaHood said the Administration opposes a gas tax increase "during this challenging, recessionary period." Rather than the comprehensive bill being proposed by Oberstar, LaHood said, "we should not rush legislation. We should work together on a full reauthorization that best meets the demands of the country. The first step is making sure that the Highway Trust Fund is solvent. The next step is addressing our transportation priorities over the long term."

On June 24, the 32 Democratic members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee sent a letter to President Obama expressing, "our profound disappointment in your Administration's proposal to extend the current surface transportation programs for 18 months. . . Your proposal fails to acknowledge the severity and urgency of the challenges facing the nation's surface transportation system at this critical time. . . The Administration's business-as-usual approach, with multiple extensions passed before enactment of a new multi-year highway, highway safety, and transit authorization act is unacceptable. That is the failed experience of the past. . .a piecemeal approach to fixing our transportation network will not work."

On the Senate side, the Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a hearing today (June 25) on the "Impacts of Expected Highway Trust Fund Insolvency." Senator Boxer has agreed with the Administration's short-term extension plan and said today, "I look forward to working with the Administration on this proposal, which would keep the recovery and job creation moving forward and give us the necessary time to pass a more comprehensive and transformational multi-year transportation authorization bill with stable and reliable funding sources." [Note: WIMS will report on the Senate hearing in tomorrow's report].

Access links to the Subcommittee's summary of subject matter and a video of the markup (
click here). Access the June 24 letter to President Obama (click here). Access an announcement from Chairman Oberstar (click here). Access links to the Committee Print, Executive Summary, Federal Surface Transportation Framework, Blueprint for Investment and Reform and more from the T&I website (click here, scroll down to "Issues in the Spotlight").