House Transportation Bill Falls Short
Next week, the House of Representatives will begin debate on the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R.7). This is a contentious transportation bill that many conservatives have expressed serious concerns – and rightly so.
Several issues have conservatives concerned. First, the price tag. Second, the massive funding gap. Third, falling short of devolution to the states.
Given our looming debt crisis, it makes sense the biggest issue with this bill is the fact that it spends more money than is available. On the spending side, the five-year bill would spend more than $262 billion, and establish a new, $40 billion fund for alternative transit (think high-speed rail!).
Federal transportation projects are traditionally funded through transportation-related revenues, such as the 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax you pay every time you fill up at the pump. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the government will collect about $193 billion in transportation-related revenues over the next 5 years. Unfortunately, that is roughly $70 billion less than the House transportation bill costs,
How do House Republicans propose covering this gap? Well, by some calculations there is still about $15.6 billion available for use in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), so that leaves $54 billion to make up.
Regardless of how that gap is covered, the Congressional Research Service notes it “would weaken the claim that road users pay the cost of the federal highway program.”
The current plan is to make up that remaining difference, in part, by opening up oil and gas exploration. While this is something that needs to happen, using it as a “pay-for” to justify an increase in spending is anathema to conservative principles. But even these “pay-fors” won’t cover the entire cost of the bill. The House will consider various other bills, but conservatives remain concerned a funding gap will exist in reality, if not on paper, and ultimately, taxpayers will be on the hook to bailout the bill.
While there are some good reforms in the House bill – no earmarks, program consolidation, state flexibility, etc. – the problem of overspending remains. House Republicans should continue to focus on eliminating wasteful programs and begin cutting spending and devolving the transportation program back to the states.
America is at a crossroads, and what happens in November will likely determine which path we take. Our conservative vision for America could not be more different from President Obama’s vision, and we must seize every opportunity we can to highlight those differences to the American people. This transportation bill represents an opportunity for conservatives in Congress to heed the calls of the 2010 elections and to promote their ideals of limited government, lower spending, and more state control.