Supporters rally for transportation bill, but delays looming

Posted on 03/20/2012 by David Radke

The House looks like to delay passage until after the March 31 deadline.

With indications growing that the U.S. House of Representatives may not pass the new transportation bill before the March 31 deadline, supporters gathered in Washington, D.C., to put pressure on Congress.

The Hill reports that Representative John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Senator Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Workers Committe, both spoke at the "Rally for the Roads" at the end of the National Mall. The legislators called on the crowd, made up largely of construction workers and drivers, to visit their representatives to demand their vote.

"In the House it takes 218 votes," Mica said. "I'm telling you I'm short, but I need your help to get there… Go to their offices. Wear your hard hats. Tell them that we need their votes."

The Star-Ledger reports that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined in on the stumping as well, though a few states over. LaHood and several New Jersey policymakers spoke at an event in the Hoboken Terminal, railing against legislators who seemed intent on bringing politics into the one bill everyone has almost always been able to agree on.

"March Madness is supposed to happen on the basketball court, not in the chamber of the House of Representatives," U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey said at the event, according to The Star-Ledger.

Politico reported last week that the House planned to wait on the crucial transportation bill until Congress comes back from Easter recess on April 16. While a few weeks delay may not normally make much difference, in this case that would mean missing the March 31 deadline for the current continuing resolution for the last transportation bill.

When that deadline passes by, Politico reports that the DOT will immediately see the fuel tax it uses to fund many of its programs drop from 18.4 cents per gallon to 4.3 cents per gallon, costing the Highway Trust Fund $110 million per day. And what money the agency does manage to collect won't do much good, since the DOT won't have the authority to spend any of it, stalling construction projects around the country right as the weather is starting to warm up.

"The building and construction trades are looking at 15, 20, 30, 40 percent unemployment depending on the trade and the location," Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon told Politico.

Truck drivers won't necessarily enjoy their break from rising fuel prices either, particularly in northern states, with plenty of potholes going untouched while states wait for more money.

But Representative Mica told The Washington Post he's hopeful that the House might be able to at least manage a short extension on the continuing resolution, which would likely be somewhere in the range of two months. This would at least give the DOT the ability keep funding coming to its current projects and continue to collect fuel tax money for when the final bill is approved.

The real concern is that hard-line deficit hawks could push for cutbacks in the extension, similar to what happened last summer when Congress was debating funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. The delay in the bill forced the agency to send thousands of workers home without pay and stop collecting millions in taxes.

"We’re going to try to do a clean extension, but that’s up to the leadership," said Mica, according to the Post. "This isn’t the FAA. You’re dealing with [transportation] projects across the country. You can’t just shut them down."


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