Transportation Bill Update: Sec. LaHood proposes 18 month extension of SAFETEA-LU; House Dems Busy Crafting Bill; Transportation Community Eagerly Awaits; Scorecard for Grading the Bill Now Available
USDOT published a news release this afternoon offering Sec. Ray LaHood’s proposed extension:
“This morning, I went to Capitol Hill to brief members of Congress on the situation with the Highway Trust Fund. I am proposing an immediate 18-month highway reauthorization that will replenish the Highway Trust Fund. If this step is not taken the trust fund will run out of money as soon as late August and states will be in danger of losing the vital transportation funding they need and expect.
“As part of this, I am proposing that we enact critical reforms to help us make better investment decisions with cost-benefit analysis, focus on more investments in metropolitan areas and promote the concept of livability to more closely link home and work. The Administration opposes a gas tax increase during this challenging, recessionary period, which has hit consumers and businesses hard across our country.
“I recognize that there will be concerns raised about this approach. However, with the reality of our fiscal environment and the critical demand to address our infrastructure investments in a smarter, more focused approach, 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.”
Shortwhile ago, WSJ published an article covering today’s development, which featured Secrtary’s proposal to delay the reauthorization. This aricle also captured an interesting response from Rep. Oberstar, delivered his press conference Wednesday. It notes that Rep. Oberstar was adamant that Congress must pass a new law before the current one expires.
“Extension of current law is unacceptable,” Mr. Oberstar said. “Now is the time to move.”
Bill in the Works at Congress (via WSJ)
House Democrats are busy crafting a transportation spending bill that would cost roughly $450 billion over six years, but no consensus has emerged on how to fund it, reports WSJ citing familiar sources.
The bill for the first time would establish standards — like reducing oil consumption and spurring economic growth — that would influence which highway and transit projects get federal funding. It would also consolidate to six or fewer the number of Transportation Department programs used to channel money to states, giving local officials more flexibility to combat their transportation challenges.
The legislation is being drafted by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D., Minn.), who plans to release a blueprint of his bill tomorrow at a press conference starting at 11:00AM. Since this is the internet age, there will be a live webcast of the news conference (an invitation-only press conference). Transportation for America informs that Chairman Oberstar is releasing a 12-page paper and a 100-page outline of the bill and it’s likely that at least one of those — probably the shorter white paper — will be released the first press conference.
The current system relies heavily on taxes from gasoline and vehicle purchases. Revenue from these sources is dropping as Americans drive less and opt for more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. Meanwhile, states are encountering similar funding problems due to declines in tax revenue. The result is a growing gap between the nation’s infrastructure needs and what is being spent to maintain and upgrade it.
The Obama administration has opposed any gas-tax increase. The White House also opposes any quick transition to a new system, which has been tested in Oregon, where drivers are taxed based on the miles they drive rather than the number of gallons they pump into their gas tanks.
People familiar with the matter say Mr. Oberstar hasn’t come up with a funding solution, and the task of writing the bill’s funding component will fall to the Ways and Means Committee. Things may proceed even slower in the Senate. That makes it unlikely Congress will pass a new bill by the time the old one expires at the end of September.
Meanwhile, states may be forced to further curb their transportation spending if Congress doesn’t come up with more money soon. Last year, Congress opted to transfer $8 billion from the Treasury’s general fund into the Highway Trust Fund to prevent last-minute cutbacks. Click here to read the entire article.
Grading the Transportation Bill (via T4America)
To help us all judge whether the bill delivers the promised transformation, Transportation for America has developed this scorecard (see below) laying out the changes that must be included to clear the bar. When the bill is released, we can begin using this as our measuring stick. Click here to download the PDF version of this awesome scorecard.