Senate Committee to Take Up Transportation Bill
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing this week on the “Long-Term Surface Transportation Bill,” also known as the highway bill. The bill would hold surface transportation spending at current levels (which have increased dramatically since the stimulus) but also overhaul how highway funding is distributed.
In his 2012 budget – which failed to get even one vote in the Senate – President Obama asked for $336 billion over 6 years in surface transportation funding – up 48% from previous levels. This desire to spend money we don’t have would have resulted in higher taxes and more class warfare, as the President would have wanted to increase taxes on jobs creators in order to pay for this infrastructure spending.
According to CQ, the new structure for allocating funds would “provide states a share of funding equal to the percentage they received under the last surface transportation bill, with a safety valve that would ensure that no state gets less than 95 percent back in aid than it pays in taxes.”
The bill is also supposed to consolidate surface transportation programs to 30, down from 90 and allow states to opt out of the mandatory enhancement spending, which takes away from actual highway and bridge improvements.
While the consolidation and financing reforms are good, continuing to fund agencies at current levels is not. The Senate Finance Committee is still looking for $12 billion in revenue to pay for the transportation bill. In other words, our course is not sustainable.
Americans will hold politicians trying to keep post-stimulus spending levels in place accountable. We couldn’t afford the stimulus when it was implemented, and we certainly can’t afford to continue funding our government at those levels.
After a near-decade long battle, conservatives finally managed to snuff out transportation earmarks. It was an uphill battle at the time, but it was absolutely necessary. Now, conservatives face another uphill battle on transportation: reducing and eliminating the federal government’s role.
The fight over the future of highway spending will not end in the Senate committee this week, either. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pledged the House would move a separate, six-year authorization bill. Conservatives need to stay alert: we’re talking about hundreds of billions and very little appetite to make fundamental reforms.