Highway Bill Deal Coming…After Another Extension

What began in March of this year as another cut and dry massive spending boondoggle that would continue the status quo of spending more money than revenues coming in has become a rallying cry for conservatives across the country. Even though the highway bill passed in the Senate with a bipartisan majority, the House balked at their hugely expensive version, thanks to conservative opposition.

At issue is the fact that the legislation spends more money than revenues bring in, and would require another bailout of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) from the general revenue fund. Instead of waiting for Washington to get their act together (and stop the excess spending), local officials are making the case for turning control of transportation funding back to the states. In February, a whole host of local officials decried the fact that it was up to Washington to decide their transportation budgets:

Leo Bowman, a commissioner in Benton County, Washington:

“It’s really difficult when Congress can’t really agree on the most important utility that we have in the nation: transportation.”

Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association:

“We have no idea whether [the bills] are going to be short or long. We’re telling the states [to prepare] for probably a series of stopgap funding bills. We’ve been in this position before. I would say it’s actually sort of worse. I’ve got states that don’t understand they can’t get money past March 31.”

Karen Amacker, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation:

“We’ve got to prepare for a number of different things that can happen. But we don’t make any concrete changes in how we do things until the legislation is passed.”

Des Moines, Iowa Mayor Frank Cownie (Democrat):

“It’s so frustrating because the needs that we have are so great, especially in the metro areas.”

Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley:

“You would certainly like to have that certainty in your funding levels. It’ll make you sleep easier”

Then, in June, Governor Dannel P. Malloy (D-MD) voiced his concern:

“We need to put people back to work. [States] are required to plan ahead. We need a federal surface transportation bill with a time horizon of more than one or three or six months.”

Now, more Democrat governors are joining the conversation. In a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative John Mica (R-FL), the governors of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont and Washington made their own case for turnback:

“Rather than short-term extensions, a longer-term bill will help address the substantial transportation needs in America and provide greater stability as Governors seek to rebuild their regional economies and improve the quality of life for their residents, their workforce, and travelers across the nation.”

Granted, the rest of the letter is about more federal government funding, but the governors inadvertently made the case for turn back by pointing out that they can’t plan for their transportation funding until the federal government passes the highway bill. If these governors were in control of their own transportation funds (instead of sending them to Washington and then getting a percentage of them given back) then they wouldn’t have this problem.

These governors will have to continue to wait for their funding because of this scheme. Negotiators of the highway bill say they’re getting close to a deal (subs. req’d), but will need another extension (the 10th) because current extension runs out at the end of the week.

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