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House Must Pass Transportation Bill

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February 15, 2012

 By Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

This week, the House of Representatives will take up the most significant jobs and transportation reform bill Congress will consider this year. If Congress wants to improve our crumbling infrastructure and put Americans to work in the hard-hit construction industry, it’s time to support the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act.

This legislation will reform our federal transportation programs and rebuild our nation’s roads and bridges. This measure also reduces energy costs and dependence on foreign energy sources in a manner that will create thousands of new private sector jobs from coast to coast.

Because this measure ensures funding for the next five years, major infrastructure projects across the country can be undertaken, creating long-term employment opportunities. The Senate’s 18-month transportation proposal primarily allows for smaller, short-term employment projects.

Not only is this a jobs bill, it also launches a much needed overhaul of our current transportation programs and bureaucracy. In fact, the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act is the most significant transportation reform initiative since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956.

The Highway Trust Fund, established at the same time as the Interstate, is funded by the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax – a user fee that highway users pay at the pump. The Trust Fund was intended to be a sustainable revenue source, financed by those who use the system, for keeping roads and bridges in good repair.

However, more and more programs and mandates created by Congress over the years have diluted the essential purpose of the Trust Fund. Now there are more than 100 programs, and with its resources depleted, the Trust Fund has had to be bailed out by Congress with billions in General Fund dollars and deficit spending.  

The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act consolidates over 70 transportation programs and refocuses the Highway Trust Fund on its intended purpose: a true user fee to pay for the upkeep of our bridges and highways.

This restoration helps stabilize the Highway Trust Fund for the future. Under an alternative transportation account for transit and other programs whose use does not contribute to the Highway Trust Fund, the bill provides five years of authorization. This time allows Congress ample opportunity to decide on a fair, sustainable approach for addressing transportation use that does not contribute under the user fee system.

The transportation bill in the Senate, by contrast, funds highway and transit programs for only 18 months and bankrupts the Trust Fund. House Democrats have not offered a solution to responsibly address our nation’s infrastructure, and seem content to criticize the Republican transportation and jobs bill.

Another dramatic difference between this bill and previous transportation laws is that this measure will contain no project earmarks. The last law, passed in 2005, contained over 6,300 earmarks, including museums and parking garages.

Under this legislation, more authority is devolved to the states to determine their most critical infrastructure needs, rather than having their needs dictated to them by Washington bureaucrats.

The glacial infrastructure project approval process, another barrier to transportation program efficiency, delays major projects an average of 15 years.  This bill streamlines approvals and reduces the red tape in this process by establishing reasonable deadlines and concurrent rather than consecutive approvals.

Reforms included in the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act are essential to saving the Highway Trust Fund, increasing the effectiveness of our transportation programs, and getting Washington out of the way of improving our infrastructure.

Combined with initiatives to reduce our dependence on foreign energy, the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act will put our people on the job building our country and strengthening our economy.

Rep. Mica (R-Fla.) is chairma of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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