The Next Transpo Bill: Can Congress Solve the Funding Problem?

From left to right, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, Catepillar Group President Stuart Levenick, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Lawrence Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, testified before House transportation leaders today. The event kicked off a new transportation bill reauthorization process. Image: ##http://transportation.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=364867## House T&I Committee##
From left to right, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, Caterpillar Group President Stuart Levenick, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, testified before House transportation leaders today. The event kicked off a new transportation bill reauthorization process. Photo: ##http://transportation.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=364867##House T&I Committee##

It’s that time again. Just 18 months after the passage of the latest federal transportation bill, known as MAP-21, Congress has to get serious about the next one. The first hearing on the bill that will replace MAP-21 took place today in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

With gridlock the order of the day in Washington, expectations for sweeping policy reforms are low. This round of legislating will focus mainly on how to pay for the federal transportation program. The speakers today, who represented interests ranging from the construction lobby to transit unions, all stressed the need for greater certainty and pushed for a funding mechanism to support a long-term, six-year bill.

Members of the committee heard testimony from Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Stuart Levenick of industrial manufacturer Caterpillar, and Larry Hanley of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Those who testified even went so far as to suggest an outright funding crisis would be preferable to another series of short-term extensions, like the endless foot-dragging that preceded MAP-21, which itself lasted barely longer than an extension. A scenario where lawmakers let funding for transportation totally run out would at least add a sense of real urgency to negotiations, the thinking goes.

Wisconsin Congressman Tom Petri (R-Wisconsin) asked the panel which outcome they’d prefer, in the case of another stalemate between Republicans and Democrats in the House.

Reed responded, “I would err on the side of short-term pain.”

Those who testified pressed for bold solutions, including alternatives to the gas tax. “What we need to do is have a conversation in this committee where we put all options on the table,” said Reed.

Hanley suggested Congress consider a tax on financial transactions, the so called “Robin Hood” tax, to fund a 100 percent increase in transit funding, which he said was warranted by growth in major cities and young people’s declining interest in driving.

Panel members reported being generally pleased with MAP-21. Reed reported that MAP-21’s streamlined environmental regulations helped Atlanta deliver its under-construction streetcar on budget and close to on time.

Levenick was also positive about the legislation. “Many of the regulatory provisions [in MAP-21] would be very effective if applied to a longer term bill,” he said.

Reed also took time to mention the success of TIGER, which has helped fund both the Atlanta Streetcar and the Beltline rail-trail system in that city. Atlanta recently received $18 million to support the Beltline project. That funding helped attract a further $43 million in private investment, he said.

  • Jack Jackson

    “Hanley suggested Congress consider a tax on financial transactions” Of course the union shill pushed the old tax the rich meme. Why was he even invited to testify? Unions are worthless

  • MaybeMeansNo

    Yeah, far better to tax the poor. Unions are worthless if you’re too rich to need a job, otherwise they are all that’s holding the crumbling floor beneath us working people. Who pays you to troll the web with these knee-jerk ad hominem attacks? If they give you bennies, thank the unions.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    My understanding of the tax on financial transactions is that many economists think that this tax is useful on its own merits, even if you just burned the money that was collected. The idea is that by making each individual transaction have a slight tax attached (you could make it maybe even as small as 0.001%), you could dissuade financial institutions from designing computer-aided trading bots that buy and sell stock millions of times in a second, to try to game out very tiny fluctuations in the price. Those bots have already been implicated in one or two volatile days on the stock market, and they introduce an element of risk into the system.

    By making the tax tiny, you get big enough impact on the high-frequency trading to stop it, while putting very little burden on all ordinary investors. But because of the size of the market, you still get a lot of revenue for the government.

    And once you have the revenue, you might as well do something positive with it.

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