Finally, there is a House transportation bill and a Senate transportation bill being taken up by a conference committee in our nation’s capital. A conference committee, made up of selected members of the House and Senate, has the job of creating a jointly acceptable single bill out of two different versions passed, theoretically, on the same subject. Given the challenges in getting a bill out of both the House and Senate, I can see why many seasoned Washington, D.C. pundits hail this as a monumental step.
To me, it still feels like a baby step. Here’s why. The Senate version of the bill has a lot of meaty stuff in it. It contains some good policy and some really bad policy stuff. It does contain funding at an adequate level (for the sake of argument). However, if passed today, the bill covers the country’s transportation investment for 16 months. With a timeframe like that, the debate can never abate. The argument over the next reauthorization bill will not be settled. It can’t even quiet down. Sixteen months will flash by in the blink of an eye and in that timeframe, the Highway Trust Fund will be broke. There will be no cushion remaining. Left with the current revenue sources, namely the federal highway user fee – which hasn’t been increased since 1993 – we will have a 35 percent reduction in the amount of federal funds being issued back to the states. This doesn’t feel like a big step to me.
And now the version of the House bill: this kicks the can for making a decision on a bill that actually addresses transportation three more months down the road and gets the Keystone XL pipeline approved. Again, that doesn’t feel like a big step in the right direction either. That sounds like another political fight to me.
But can we just give up on the process and, ultimately, the goal? Absolutely not! When you realize that two-thirds of ODOT’s construction budget, amounting to nearly $1 billion each year, comes from the federal government, we cannot give up on this effort for the sake of our industry or the people who benefit from the services we provide.
We are fortunate that our sole Ohio representative on the conference committee is Representative Patrick Tiberi. Rep. Tiberi has been a strong supporter of transportation issues, the heavy/highway industry in Ohio, and this association for as long as he has been in public office. He, like most, will struggle with the concept of increasing
the federal highway user fee, but he does get the big picture of the importance of an
efficient, well-maintained transportation infrastructure and the need to get to a place where it is being legitimately paid for. He knows the issues and his will be a positive voice for what we stand for.
Read the full text of Mr. Runyan’s article here.