Mica rolls out new proposed transportation reauthorization
July 07, 2011
With the current state of transportation infrastructure at the national level still largely in flux, the Republican leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier today held a press conference to roll out its comprehensive, multi-year transportation reauthorization proposal.
Committee officials said prior to this press conference that this new bill will “reauthorize and reform the nation’s federal highway, transit, and highway safety programs…[and] also make significant improvements to passenger and freight rail programs, and maritime and waterborne transportation policy.”
They added that this multi-modal proposal will streamline federal programs, cut red tape and the bureaucratic project process, better leverage federal resources, make wise investments in infrastructure, and provide the long-term predictability that states need to undertake major construction projects.
According to an executive summary of the bill, this Transportation Reauthorization bill authorizes 6 years of funding for the highway, transit, and highway safety programs at funding levels consistent with the amount of revenue being deposited into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), whose revenues, are derived from the federal gasoline tax, and are used for annual highway and transit programs.
The six-year bill, according to the summary, would authorize $230 billion in spending from the HTF between 2012-2017, which the bill’s authors said is equal to the revenue deposited into the HFT that that six-year period.
Putting the current financial challenges of the HTF into perspective, the summary noted that in 2010 the HTF brought in $135 billion in revenue, while more than $50 billion in spending was authorized from the HTF. What’s more, in the last three years, Congress has transferred roughly $35 billion from the U.S. General Fund into the HTF in order to keep the HTF solvent. At this current rate, the summary said that the HTF would run out of funding by 2013.
The current transportation authorization—the six-year, $285 billion Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) expired in September 2009 and has been kept intact by a series of continuing resolutions. The authorization is set to expire on September 30, 2011.
Among the freight-focused themes mentioned in the summary were:
-providing additional funding for TIFIA, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program which provides Federal credit assistance in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to finance surface transportation projects of national and regional significance;
-keeping existing lanes on the Interstate Highway System toll-free but allow states to toll any new lanes they build on the Interstate and give states the flexibility to toll non-Interstate highways;
-encouraging states to create and capitalize State Infrastructure Banks to provide loans for transportation projects at the state level;
-creating a faster and more predictable application process for Rail Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loans;
-changing the implementation and deadline for Positive Train Control and provide clear direction for rail carriers and allow for technology-neutral solutions;
-trying Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund expenditures to revenues, ensuring fees paid by shippers go to channel maintenance
-encourage short-sea shipping by prohibiting double-taxing of vessels shipping goods between domestic ports
Preserving existing highways, building new highway capacity, and addressing congestion, freight mobility, and highway safety are all core components of this new bill.
“We are looking at every way possible to maximize available dollars with a baseline of $35 billion for the Highway Trust Fund,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman. “This is a multi-modal approach. We think we can take that $35 billion and double that value. Thus is about building infrastructure and creating jobs in a financially responsible manner.”
Mica pointed out that this is a six-year bill, noting that other factions of Congress are working on a two-year bill. The fundamental difference between the six-year bill and a two-year bill, said Mica, is that the six-year bill maintains its integrity from a fiscal perspective, whereas the HTF at current levels would be headed for bankruptcy after two years and “destroy” the HTF concept.
Executive Director of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors Leslie Blakey told LM that on a broad level, Mica’s bill is a positive step and he is doing his best to satisfy the different constraints he is dealing with in his committee and his party.
“But I am not sure there is too much virtue in locking in to a six-year bill at a very impoverished new level,” said Blakey. “It certainly is possible that things will change one way or another within the next two years. The Senate’s proposed two-year bill is better than further extensions but it is certainly a strategy worth looking at. These proposed funding levels are at such a low point that we are going to miss years of transportation infrastructure needs that will pile up and become more expensive further out and be more critical.”
A previous bill circulating earlier this year in the form of a draft version from the White House, included a dedicated freight program, an office of freight or a national freight plan were bandied about. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of Environment and Public Works Committee, will soon propose a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill, according to various reports. Boxer recently said that Mica’s bill represents a 36 percent reduction from current spending levels.
And as part of the White House budget, President Obama proposed a six-year, $556 billion transportation bill.
“This bill is a reduction of current investment levels but Mica is constrained by the rules his caucus has put in place about the HTF and he is doing the best he can and trying to augment it with things like TIFIA financing,” said Mort Downey, senior advisor at infrastructure firm Parsons-Brinkerhoff. “But it is nowhere near as robust as what Senator Boxer is proposing.”
Downey added that Mica’s bill lacks a freight framework in its present version.
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