Officials oppose transportation bill
State and local officials continue to hammer a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would end dedicated funding for public transportation through the gasoline tax. The opposition appears to be working. Even as three officials talked to reporters Monday to criticize the bill, leaders in the House were working to revamp the measure.
The three local officials spelled out their opposition to the bill Monday in a conference call with reporters. The meeting included Gene Conti, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation; Steve Heminger, executive director of the Bay Area Metro Transportation Commission; and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. The three leaders echoed what has been a continuing stream of criticism of the bill, H.R. 7, since it was introduced last month by Republican legislators.
The bill would end the three-decades practice of devoting a share of the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax to pay for mass transit, forcing transit agencies to rely instead on financing from the general fund. Conti said that change and a cut in overall transportation funding could threaten about 25 percent of his state’s transportation budget, which comes through federal funding. “We’re very concerned that the federal partner we’ve had for many years is not maintaining that partnership,” he said.
Cornett criticized provisions in the bill that would give greater authority to states to determine how and what transportation projects to fund. He said the provisions would threaten “quality of life” transportation programs best worked out at the local level. “The idea that you can cookie-cutter in Washington or even pass down a percentage to a state and think it’s going to get down at the same level of efficiency is a fantasy,” he said.
The bill also would eliminate funds for some programs such as an effort to make it safer for kids to walk or bicycle to school. Heminger called such cost-cutting measures short sighted. He urged congressional leaders to “think big again and go long again. To look for a vision that can galvanize the country,” and find the resources to adequately fund transportation.
The officials said they were cautiously optimistic that the House bill would improve in conjunction with a Senate proposal, but they wanted to see details first. Congress is first likely to approve a short-term compromise, however, before transportation funding expires March 31.