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Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar’

Fix the Roads, But Don’t Ask Us to Pay for It

The Highway Trust Fund is about to go broke, again.

by on Sep.03, 2009

 61,000 miles of our National Highway System are now in poor to fair condition, 25% of bridges "structurally deficient."

About 61,000 miles of our National Highway System are in poor to fair condition.

Everyone knows what happens to a car when it runs out of fuel. Nevertheless, the same cannot be said about the Highway Trust Fund, which at current funding levels will be $17 billion short of money for the 2010 fiscal year that starts next month.

Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar’s sweeping bill to reform Transportation policy and fix the bankrupt Highway Trust Fund has been blocked by the Obama Administration, so the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, is pushing to renew the existing bill for six more years.

Virtually everyone agrees that our roads, highways and bridges need more maintenance and rebuilding, but a depressed economy and soaring budget deficits make politicians reluctant to address the problem.

In addition, the gang that lives in state along the banks of the Potomac is much better at passing out money for earmarks and pet programs, than they are at finding ways to pay for them. That’s why the Trust Fund is under funded in the first place.

The problem with renewing the existing bill is that it doesn’t contain adequate taxes to support the work required to keep roads repaired. The gasoline tax of 18.4 cents a gallon that goes toward roads has not been raised in 15 years. And, if you’ve been driving through those years, you know what has happened to our highways. About 61,000 miles of our National Highway System are now in poor to fair condition, and 152,000 bridges – 25% — are “structurally deficient.”

Well, things could get worse. The easy political position given circumstances right now is to renew the existing law, without increasing fuel taxes.

However, the numbers do not work. An estimated $235.7 billion (FY 2010-FY 2015) will be raised, but existing transportation programs cost $326.1 billion during the same period. And this doesn’t catch up with decades of neglect.

No Potholes!

No Potholes!

The Obama Administration kicked the problem down the road as Congress recessed this summer by moving $7 billion more in funding into the Trust Fund so that it can get by for the time being.

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Fight Looms Over Our Dysfunctional Transportation Policy. Kicking the Problem “Down the Road”

After decades of neglect, a huge bill is due as the deficit soars.

by on Jul.07, 2009

DOT Project in Wyoming

A budget-busting bill of $500,000,000,000 alters Federal funding of transportation, increasing it 40%.

Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar has introduced a bill that calls for sweeping changes in U.S. transportation policy, as well as how taxes and fees are assessed to keep the now bankrupt Highway Trust Fund solvent. It’s a half a trillion dollar program.

He also wants to restore rail freight service, institute high-speed train travel between major cities, and increase funding for mass transit by establishing higher fees on highway users.

His “Surface Transportation Authorization Act Of 2009″ introduced late last month in the House of Representatives claims to be a “blueprint for investment and reform,” and directly challenges the Obama Administration. It has cleared a sub-committee, and markups are proceeding. [See Oberstar here]

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood wants to defer the larger discussion of transportation policy that is being prompted by the impending bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund. It runs out of money this month.  And the current transportation bill expires this October 1, when the new fiscal year begins. The new bill has good bipartisan support in the House.

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LaHood is kicking the core issue down the road.

LaHood proposes maintaining the status quo for 18 months by injecting, oh, $10 to $20 billions of dollars into the existing system to keep the money flowing to the states, which then can divert up to 50% of the money for other purposes. Oberstar wants accountability and coherence to the unsupervised spending. LaHood ducks this core issue by saying he thinks that it will take 18 months for Congress to “think creatively as we search for sustainable funding mechanisms.”

Translation: your taxes are going up

Gas Tax Free!

Gas Tax Free!

The Obama Administration doesn’t want to deal with this right now, although it’s tough for me to foresee just when increased taxes will become more popular. And what about Obama’s claim that it is time to stop kicking tough problems “down the road” — I guess that doesn’t apply to our actual roads. 

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Highway Trust Fund is Insolvent

How to pay for our roads is the latest political squabble caused by a collapsed economy. It sure looks like business as usual.

by on Jun.18, 2009

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood ran into intense political opposition this week from members of Congress over his proposed fix for the Highway Trust Fund, which runs out of money this summer.

LaHood, a politician with more experience dealing with the legislative branches than with transportation issues, was confronted by Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar, who was not happy with LaHood’s proposal that would essentially continue the bankrupt status quo for 18 months beyond the end of this fiscal year on September 30th. LaHood just wants to inject billions in cash to prop up the account and keep the funding to states flowing. This, of course, pushes real policy decisions that are now required into the future. Oberstar wants sweeping changes and will introduce a bill next week.

highway-account-balance

LaHood's proposal continues the bankrupt status quo with an injection of billions in borrowed cash, and pushes politically unpopular increased taxes or spending cuts into the future.

Both were ultimately taking self-interested positions. Passing transportation legislation in Congress is a complicated process, now made more complicated as we veer toward depression that has seen the revenue raised by fuel taxes for the Highway Trust Fund plummet.

While President Obama continues with high approval ratings, deficit spending and/or tax increases to cover the rising sea of red ink in the federal budget are extremely unpopular. So LaHood, an Obama appointee, played for time by deferring into the future either cutting highway programs or increasing taxes. (more…)