INHOFE BEGINS DEBATE ON HIGHWAY BILL

WASHINGTON, DC ñ Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Chairman of the Environment & Public Works Committee, began debate today on the motion to proceed to the S. 732 the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 (SAFETEA): ìAlthough we may not all be in perfect agreement here on the Senate floor on each and every provision of S. 732, one thing I believe we are all in agreement on is that we need to get this done,î Senator Inhofe stated. ìThe language that the Senate will be considering is essentially the same bill that was passed on the Senate floor last year -- a bipartisan product of many months of hard work and compromise. This bill remains a very good piece of legislation which I hope will require few changes here on the floor. However, I am anxious to discuss with Senators their amendments so that we can debate them and hopefully get this bill in conference with the House prior to the Memorial Day recess -- but we need to get to the bill first.î Inhofeís full opening statement is attached. ### Senator Inhofeís Opening Statement on the Motion to Proceed April 25, 2005 MR. PRESIDENT: On Friday, the Leader filed a cloture motion on the Motion to Proceed to H.R. 3 . . . the highway bill. I believe the cloture vote has been scheduled for tomorrow at 11:45 am. I strongly urge all of my colleagues to vote yes. Transportation Equity Act for the 21 Century (TEA-21) expired on September 30, 2003, nearly 19 months ago; yet we are still attempting to get a bill done. The Federal-aid program has been operating under a number of short-term extensionsóa total of six to date. Colleagues, we need to get this done. Your vote on Tuesday on cloture is critical. If we cannot proceed to this bill, we will miss yet another deadline and our states will continue to pay the price. The current May 31st expiration date for the highway, transit and safety programs is fast approaching. The House bill, H.R. 3, has some very significant differences from S. 732 the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 (SAFETEA), the bill reported out by the Environment and Public Works Committee on March 16. We will need as much time as possible to work out a compromise. Although we may not all be in perfect agreement here on the Senate floor on each and every provision of S. 732, one thing I believe we are all in agreement on is that we need to get this done. In addition to conversations with colleagues, I have visited with community leaders and outside interest groups and the message is clear . . . get the bill done. My committee colleagues and I are asking the Senate to consider essentially the same language that 76 Senators voted for in 108th Congress. The Environment and Public Works Committee used as its mark the Senate passed S. 1072 with the exception that we adjusted the numbers to reflect the Presidentís proposed spending level of $284 billion over six years. During our markup we accepted several non-controversial amendments from Committee members. None of these amendments substantially changed the policy goals of the bill as passed last year. Therefore, I strongly urge my colleagues to support the pending cloture motion and allow us to move to H.R. 3. We really need to keep this moving. The longer we delay enactment of a long term bill we are negatively effecting economic growth. According to DOT estimates, every $1 billion of federal funds invested in highway improvements creates 47,000 jobs. The same $1 billion investment yields $500 million in new orders for the manufacturing sector and $500 million spread throughout other sectors of the economy. State contract awards for the 2005 spring and summer construction season are going out to bid. If we fail to send a bill to the President by May 31st, states will not know what to expect in federal funding and the uncertainty will potentially force states to delay putting these projects out for bid. According to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), an estimated 90,000 jobs are at stake. This problem is exacerbated for northern States who have shorter construction seasons. Many state transportation departments have advanced state dollars to construct projects eligible for federal-funding in anticipation of our action to reauthorize the program. Without a new bill, states are essentially left "holding the bag." Over the past six years under TEA-21, we have made great progress in preserving and improving the overall physical condition and operation of our transportation system; however, more needs to be done. A safe, effective transportation system is the foundation of our economy. We are past due to fulfill an obligation to this country and the American people. I am pleased that the President's budget assumed more funding for reauthorization over his previous level of $256 billion. I and along with many of you believe we need more. Certainly that is an issue that will be thoroughly debated on the floor of the Senate... but we canít even have that debate unless we get to the floor. Again, if we are able to proceed, the language that the Senate will be considering is essentially the same bill that was passed on the Senate floor last yearóa bipartisan product of many months of hard work and compromise. This bill remains a very good piece of legislation which I hope will require few changes here on the floor. However, I am anxious to discuss with Senators their amendments so that we can debate them and hopefully get this bill in conference with the House prior to the Memorial Day recess . . . but we need to get to the bill first. S. 1072 passed the Senate last year guaranteed all donor states a rate of return of 95 percent. At a lower funding level we were able only to achieve a 92 percent rate of return but kept the 10% floor over TEA21. The scope, or spilt of percent funding above and below the line, remain the same at 92.5 percent. In order to get this bill off the floor, we have to balance the needs of donor and donee states. I will be the first to acknowledge that this balanceñas with any compromiseñis not perfect. My colleagues representing donee and donor states that receive lower rates of return or growth rates than they feel fair have made this fact very clear to me over the past year. I am very sympathetic to the concerns of both donors and donees in this situation. Both have significant transportation needs that cannot be ignored. Addressing their concerns has become more difficult in the last year due to the fact that we have less money ó providing either group with more money would add significantly to the cost of the bill or take away from other programs. But holding up even consideration of this bill wonít solve the problem. We need to proceed to H.R. 3 so that donor and donee states will have the opportunity to offer their amendments on how to improve their stateís treatment. I am certain my colleagues share my strong desire to get a transportation reauthorization bill passed. We must act to get a bill to and through conference prior to the May 31st expiration of the current extension. This will be a very difficult challenge, but if we act quickly we can do it. Now letís look at the alternative. What will happen if we do not pass a highway bill. There will not be another extension. If we donít pass the bill there will be: 1) no chance of improvement on donor state rate of return; 2) no new safety core program to help states respond to thousands of deaths each year on our roadways; 3) no real streamlining of environmental reviews, so critical projects will still be subject to avoidable delay; 4) no increased ability to use innovative financing thereby giving States more tools to advance projects; 5) no Safe Routes to School; 6) States will continue to have uncertainty in planning . . .thereby delaying projects and negatively impacting jobs; 7) no new border program ó critical to borders States dealing with NAFTA traffic 8) delay in the establishment of a National Commission to explore how to fund transportation in the future . . . . as motor vehicles become more fuel efficient a tax collection system based solely fuel consumption become less practical; 9) no increased opportunity to address choke points at intermodal connectors; 10) firewall protection of the Highway Trust Fund will not be continued thereby making the trust fund vulnerable to raids in order to pay for other programs. ###