WASHINGTON, D.C. – November 19, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), ranking member of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee and one of the “Big Four” transportation leaders that got the House to pass a six-year surface transportation bill, today spoke out about urgent priorities for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at the first Conference Committee meeting to reconcile the Senate and House transportation reauthorization bills. Norton praised Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) for working so closely together to achieve one of the few bipartisan bills to come from the 114th Congress.
“Notwithstanding a bill with almost no increase in funding in 10 years, every state, every local government, every construction worker, every transit rider, everyone in the construction industry, every commuter stuck in traffic, and every business that uses our roads and bridges to move goods will be relieved that we have finally broken through our own gridlock to achieve a long-term surface transportation bill,” Norton said. “I am particularly pleased that most of my priorities made it into the bill. To name just a few of my local and national priorities, the bill includes my language to implement direct federal safety oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) Metrorail, $7.5 million in annual grant funding for states to collect data on racial profiling, reauthorization of the Disadvantaged Business Enterprises program, funding for workforce development, continued funding for bike and pedestrian programs, and a new $750 million program for freight and projects of national significance.
“But, this bill must mark more than the priorities of individual members. I pressed especially for a new way to fund the now obsolete Highway Trust Fund, and the $20 million I got for states to experiment with new ways to raise revenue for the nation’s infrastructure is a start. However, Congress has an obligation to take leadership of the Highway Trust Fund, which has fallen victim, ironically, to fuel efficient vehicles, the abundance of cheap natural gas, and falling oil prices. Instead of taking advantage of this windfall to fund this authorization, this is the first surface transportation bill ever to resort to more than a dozen gimmicks to fund transportation and infrastructure projects, such as decreasing the fixed dividend rate paid by the Federal Reserve, increasing aviation passengers’ Customs and Border Protection (CBP) fees that will be diverted from CBP, and changing the filing dates of certain tax and information returns. These gimmicks have already attracted a boat load of criticism of our bill and have distracted from its good points. Surely, this sleight of hand, some of them needed for other matters, are not better than finding ways to raise the necessary revenue. Red and blue states are doing exactly that and polls show the majority of Americans favor tax increases to save our nation’s transportation and infrastructure.
“Therefore, I offer two suggestions. The nation needs $400 billion over the next six years to maintain our infrastructure’s status quo. The House bill authorizes $325 billion. By making this a five-year, not a six-year, bill, we could at least make up for the status quo shortfall. Although a shorter bill is not ideal, it is better than allowing our infrastructure to fall into further disrepair and being forced to later make up for the shortfall to the Highway Trust Fund through general revenue.
“Second, I am requesting that our Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hold a meeting, preferably a joint House and Senate Committee meeting, to hear ideas from the private sector and the public on new ways to fund the Highway Trust Fund. Until now, no discussions in the Congress that I know of to consider new Highway Trust Fund ideas have occurred. However, in my own discussions, I have heard a number of promising ideas. I believe that airing new ideas in a formal hearing would help reassure stakeholders and would generate even more ideas. After speaking on this idea during the Conference Committee, I am pleased that I was able to have a good conversation with Chairman Shuster.”