Like Pennsylvania, the federal government is stuck in the mud when it comes to a long-term transportation funding program.
Politico’s Elana Schor posted this report yesterday:
It was supposed to be a career-defining moment for Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.). He finally held the gavel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, after four decades of waiting and had a like-minded president in office to help enact his sweeping vision for highways and public works.
But Oberstar was cut down before he even got started. Hours after he began circulating his plan last spring for a six-year, $500 billion investment in roads and rail, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood simply called for an extension of the 2005 highway bill — effectively cutting off long-term expansion plans.
"That was the beginning of a less-than-good working relationship," said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
The relationship soured from there, as a frustrated Oberstar slammed White House economic advisers "who never had a shovel in their hands or a callus on their fingers."
So, while the nation’s infrastructure continues to age and crumble, Washington is stuck with a neutered transportation chairman, a White House distracted by more pressing issues and congressional leaders who lack the political will to raise gas taxes for a new $500 billion measure. And Oberstar is left without the incredible power that once came with a Transportation chairmanship — picking and choosing where to send billions in highway pork.
"I don’t know why they [the White House] don’t want to move forward" on a new highway bill, Oberstar’s top lieutenant, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), lamented in a recent interview. "Somewhere in the bowels of the White House economic team, they said, ‘Hey, we don’t want to deal with transportation.’"
For the Obama administration, deep-sixing the bill was a political necessity, because raising the gas tax is a nonstarter in an election year. And until Oberstar or another lawmaker can find a viable alternative method to raise the $200 billion plus needed to fully fund his legislation, it is likely to stay stuck in no man’s land.
That leaves the entire transportation industry, from bridge builders to bike boosters, waiting in vain for a breakthrough that might jump-start Oberstar’s efforts. Meanwhile, stimulus infrastructure dollars have not stopped construction unemployment from topping 20 percent, and some insiders are bracing for a funding impasse that lingers indefinitely.
"There has to be some way for all of the disparate interests to get together and try to motivate action on this," said Janet Kavinoky, chief infrastructure lobbyist of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Because regardless of what you’re looking for, you won’t be able to achieve that until the priority is put on transportation."
Despite his complaints about the administration’s lack of attention to his main issue, Oberstar remains at a loss for how to pay for his bill without a gas-tax hike.
"Right now, we’re looking at bake sales," quipped his spokesman, Jim Berard.
Read the entire article here.
Photo: James L. Oberstar, from 1world2wheels.org