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Failure to produce long-term legislation that would fund the nation’s surface transportation programs is “not an option,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said yesterday in her opening statement at the congressional Surface Transportation Bill Conference Committee’s first meeting.
The committee was established to negotiate differences between Republican House measures to extend the existing SAFETEA-LU law and the Democratic Senate’s two-year, $109 billion surface transportation legislation known as MAP-21, which the Senate passed in March.
Boxer, who chairs the conference committee and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, called on her colleagues to pass legislation that would boost the economy by putting thousands of people to work on projects to repair and/or build needed transportation infrastructure. She also talked about the economic impact of short-term extensions to SAFETEA-LU versus a long-term measure that would provide businesses and transportation agencies more time to plan needed projects.
“Because of those endless extensions, many states have limited the funds available to hire workers for construction projects due to funding uncertainty, costing thousands of jobs all across America — right now,” Boxer said. “What we do here today and in the days and weeks ahead has ramifications for so many businesses.”
Meanwhile, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) encouraged fellow conference committee members to agree on a bill that builds the nation’s infrastructure “responsibly” without earmarks, tax increases or additions to federal bureaucracy.
“Particularly in this current economic environment, there is no appetite to keep funneling money into programs in need of a major overhaul, unless we make necessary, meaningful reforms,” Mica said in a prepared statement.
He is concerned that the long-term solvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund is at risk, yet the solution should not include “more deficit spending or General Fund transfers,” he said.
“In order to better focus our limited resources on the most critical projects and improvements, we must give states more flexibility, and we must significantly reduce the federal bureaucracy by consolidating or eliminating duplicative and unnecessary programs,” Mica said.