Transportation pushes for stimulus plan changes
Rep. James L. Oberstar, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Thursday that Democrat leaders have not focused enough on transportation infrastructure in their $825 billion economic recovery bill.
About $358 billion is targeted for energy, school and other infrastructure projects.
The House plan revealed last week includes:
' About $30 billion for highways and bridges.
' $9 billion for transit.
' $1.1 billion for rail.
' $3 billion for aviation.
' $6.9 billion for environmental infrastructure.
' $4.5 billion for the Corps of Engineers.
' $7.7 billion for federal buildings.
The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday began editing the package.
Oberstar had previously proposed an $85 billion infrastructure package that includes:
' $30 billion for highways and bridges.
' $12 billion for transit.
' $5 billion for rail.
' $5 billion for aviation.
' $14 billion for environmental infrastructure.
' $7 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
' $10 billion for federal buildings.
The Minnesota congressman criticized the Appropriations Committee for extending “use-it-or-lose it” deadlines for states and localities to commit to projects or else lose the money to other states that are ready to begin construction. The new guidelines say the money must be tapped within 180 days instead of 120 days, as originally proposed. Oberstar had proposed a 90-day window for states and transit agencies to start letting contracts for a percentage of the funds, but many fellow lawmakers questioned the ability of states to move that fast.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported this week that only a small amount of new funding would be spent this year and only about one-third of the money would be spent by the end of 2010 — meaning that it would have little short-term ability to jumpstart the economy.
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials there are $66 billion in ready-to-go highway and bridge projects. The Federal Highway Administration has also streamlined the process for states to receive federal disbursements.
AASHTO said the CBO underestimates the ability of states to move rapidly on these projects. AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley said state transportation chiefs are prepared to have half of the $30 billion in highway funds under contract within 120 days.
“CBO is basing its analysis on past practices for six-year bills, and then projecting more delay that it imagines will take place. This is a new day, a new challenge, and states will deliver on the promise they have made to Congress and to President Obama. We are ready to move. All we need is the green light to proceed,” Horsley said in a statement.
“I realize 90 days is a tight deadline. However, this is a national emergency, and business as usual is not good enough anymore. If the purpose of this legislation is to be achieved, then we must set tight deadlines, and hold everyone accountable to them, both the federal agencies and the state and local grant recipients,” Oberstar said in opening statement for a hearing on the stimulus bill.
“I am certain that federal agencies, under President Obama’s leadership, will make the distribution of economic recovery grant funds one of their highest priorities. We will not be operating business as usual.”
Oberstar is not the only one questioning the choices in the House stimulus plan.
Peter Morici, a professor at the Robert A. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, said on WTOP radio that the job-creation plan does not include enough infrastructure spending.
“Frankly, what you’ve got here is a political agenda masquerading as a stimulus package,” he said.
The freight sector is also disappointed with the scope of the transportation infrastructure component of the stimulus bill.
American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves told the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that the principle cornerstone of the economic recovery plan was supposed to be investment in roads and bridges, but only $30 billion out of $825 billion is now dedicated for that purpose.
“$30 billion doesn’t go very far,” he said.
Meanwhile, Republicans want a greater focus on tax cuts for businesses to create more jobs, instead of direct spending on infrastructure projects.
A floor vote in the House is expected next week. ' Eric Kulisch