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Published on March 21st, 2012 | by Andrew Meggison

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Senate Passes Transportation Bill, GOP Says No Way

This Wednesday saw the U.S. Senate approval of a two year $109 billion transportation and infrastructure bill. Now the ball is in the House Republicans court.

The federal highway trust fund is set to expire at the end of March. The United States Highway Trust Fund is a transportation fund which receives money from federal fuel tax, about 18 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24 cents per gallon of diesel fuel and related excise taxes.The trust currently has three accounts, the Highway Account which funds road construction, ‘Mass Transit Account’ which supports mass transit and ‘Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund’ which patches up leaks to underground fuel storage tanks. The trust was established 1956 to finance the United States Interstate Highway System with additional trusts funds made in1982.

If you drive around the crumbling highway system of American you just might be wondering where that money is actually going.

All cynicism aside, this is a big deal on the job front. An estimated 3 million jobs will be created or saved with the fund renewed. These jobs will be mainly construction jobs, an industry that has been hit hard by state and federal budget cuts and the American housing crisis that is still in full swing.

The Senate bill which passed Wednesday, was written by Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California and Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. This bill is about as bipartisan as you can get.

The bill consolidates 196 federal transportation programs into about a dozen. This consolidation gives more flexibility to the states to decide transportation priorities – in other words this is not big government telling people what to do, its state government. The duration of the bill is two years. This is a short time frame for a bill and the reason being because of the difficulty in paying for the bill programs—funds come from gasoline tax revenues and gas tax revenues are on the decline for a number of reasons.

Because of the bills short time frame, opponents of the Senate bill have labeled it a band aid, a short term fix to a much larger problem that needs to be addressed.  The funny thing is that President Obama had pressed for an overall infrastructural spending effort, not a band aid but a program that would fix America’s aging highways system, provide jobs, and boost the economy. However, the House Republicans were not pleased with that either and countered the President’s proposal with a plan to cut 35% of all transportation spending.

This left the Senate with the option of raising the federal gas tax, something they could not do as gas prices climb to $4.00 a gallon. Or they could come up with the Senate passed consolidation bill that taps into a trust fund established to clean up leaking underground storage tanks.

To get a feeling of where the current American economy is and how broken the American system of government is, one has to look no further than this bill, a bill that would provide jobs and repairs to our crumbling infrastructure, a bill that has almost no chance of passing through Congress.

Source: nytimes.com

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison


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About the Author

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor's Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master's Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison



  • John Schardt

    I like the provision in the Senate transportation bill that 196 federal transportation programs would be reduced to 12 and the provision that the decisions on transportation priorities would be shifted more to the states while research and development would be focused at the federal level.

    What I don’t like is the duration of the bill. The time required to develop the erosion and sedimentation control plan, conduct the environmental impact study, perform the hydraulic studies for the 1 in 100, 1 in 250, and 1 in 500 year floods, conduct the traffic study, and design the highway and the bridge takes at least a year and can often take two years or more.

    Projects begun during the first year of the bill and requiring one year to complete the design would have one year of dedicated funding remaining in the second year of the bill to complete construction. If the construction takes longer than one year, there would be no dedicated funding remaining to complete it. Projects begun in the first year of the bill and requiring two or more years to complete the design would have no dedicated funding remaining in the bill to begin construction.

    Projects begun during the second year of the bill and requiring one year to complete the design would have no dedicated funding remaining in the bill to begin construction. Projects begun during the second year of the bill and requiring two or more years to complete the design would have no dedicated funding remaining in the bill to complete the design let alone begin construction.

    A two year bill severely restricts the options states have when deciding their transportation priorities. A six bill expands those options.

    This is one of the main reasons previous transporation bills have been six years.

    Congress helped create the financial shortfall in transporation funding by not indexing the gas tax with the CAFE standards and the inflation rate. The tax hasn’t been increased for over fifteen years. During that time, gasoline consumption has decreased (while miles driven has increased) and inflation has eroded the buying power of the dollar. The time to adjust the gas tax was when the price of gasoline was below $2.00/gallon a few years ago. Congress missed that opportunity and now finds itself in a politcal bind. Congressman Mark Critz from Pennsylvania recently acknowledged the solution to this financial shortfall is to increase the gas tax, but very few in Congress have the poltical fortitude to do that.

    I believe it is incorrect to say Congress can’t increase the gas tax in the face of $4.00/gallon; but is is correct to say Congress won’t increase the tax. Doing so would put them in political peril and yet would demonstrate true leadership.

  • Junkpile

    Given the lack of leadership at all levels on this issue since 2009 – 90 days is not a big deal – particularly if it results in a 5-6 (not 2) year bill and miracle of miracles – some actual debate on revenue through gas tax (only one person has openly presented on gas tax Mike Enzi (R) Wyoming who spoke about indexing). With $50-55B budgeted House or Senate and not even $40B in revenue – it is deplorable there is not even any debate on balancing the budget with user fees – election year coward blues and ideologue reds. Let’s focus on facts – 1 cent of gas tax raises $1b/year – over a 5-6 year bill if we balance the transportation budget by increased users fees on gas by 3 cents each year – we will have a balanced budget. For those in rural areas that don’t like paying the same for urban infrastructure – a debate on in-balanced gas tax would be good too (1 cent rural and 4 cents urban MSA greater than 50,000). At least debate the topic. For sure include the top five aspects of the bill:
    1) 5-6 year duration
    2) No earmarks, silos or set asides
    3) Consolidation of the US DOT – the states do most of the work today on interstates – a few less than 58,000 employees would seem rational
    4) Full flexibility for states in determining modal priorities not the feds
    5) Streamlining – but start with procurement and IT practices which waste millions of dollars

    The more disturbing issue of the dysfunctional sausage making that is accepted behavior in DC is the complete and utter blame they put on each other rather than getting things done. It’s the 21st century not the 17th – and the level of performance and self absorbed get-re-elected first us vs them kills USA competitiveness and jobs. To keep Congress focused on their job for the public we need to bring them into the 21st century to serve us and end their self accepted inefficient sausage factory.

    AMENDMENT 28 to the Constitution: The Senate and the House shall vote on bills that address a single topic or action and shall not amend or otherwise incorporate actions that are incompatible with the topic or action of such bills.

    Sign the petition and let’s get government that serves us well rather than wastes our time with teenage drama and senseless infighting – make them accountable to us not special interests slipping legislation-stopping amendments and topics into omnibus legislation.
    http://www.change.org/petitions/amendment-28-end-the-sausage-making-in-dc-congress-vote-on-single-actions-and-topics-no-non-compatible-amendments

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