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2009 Transportation Bill

Voinovich: Business Buy-in Can Get a New Transportation Bill Done

George Voinovich (R-OH) may be the only senator who wants to forget about an 18-month extension of existing transportation law and move ahead quickly on broad reform. But that doesn't mean he's giving up.

george_voinovich.07.19.07_lrg.jpgSen. George Voinovich (R-OH), rendered by political caricaturist Kerry Waghorn.

Getting business interests to work on methods for funding a long-term transportation bill can help shift the political climate, he told Streetsblog Capitol Hill today after Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) vowed to continue searching for revenue raisers that can pay for massive new legislation.

"Right now, the president is frankly worried about health care, climate change, a lot of other things [and may have said] 'see, I don't need another thing on my plate,'" Voinovich said.

But, he added, the White House would likely come around if the private sector -- which has "been heretofore reluctant ... to step up" -- is willing to shoulder some of the extra tax burden needed to pay for increased infrastructure investment.

Voinovich made a passionate argument for taking up the House transportation bill, which he noted would help lower carbon emissions by encouraging greater use of transit and less auto dependence. But his ability to turn the tide in the Senate may be hurt by his imminent retirement from Congress, the insistence of the environment panel's senior Republican on a "clean" 18-month extension -- and the cold hard fact, as Voinovich put it, that "most of my colleagues haven't even looked at" the House bill.

The business lobby's readiness to bear extra costs in a bad economy is another factor. As Voinovich spoke to Streetsblog, he flagged down Jack Basso, director of program finance at the road-lobby group AASHTO.

The senator suggested pushing for a transportation funding extension shorter than 18 months, "to put the pressure on to get this thing done by next year." In response, Basso would say only that "we're supportive of the Oberstar [House] bill moving forward."

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