SENATE AND HOUSE CONFEREES BEGIN WORK ON HIGHWAY BILL
WASHINGTON, DC ñ Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Chairman of the Environment & Public Works Committee and Vice Chairman of the Safe Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA) conference committee, marked the beginning of the conference committeeís work today with opening remarks:
ìWe only have 20 days left until the current extension expires ñ I want to encourage those who are working with the White House on the overall number to continue their work. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 or ëSAFETEA,í as passed by the Senate last month contains a higher level of funding than that proposed by the House or that requested by the White House. As one of the most fiscally conservative members of Congress, I can tell you that I have no hesitation to endorse what Senators Chuck Grassley and Max Baucus produced.î
ìI would strongly encourage my conference colleagues not to grow weary in well doing . . . but to keep working. 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 over 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.î
The Senate version of the legislation will provide $295 billion to address the nation's surface transportation needs over the next 5 years. Under Inhofe's bill, Oklahoma's federal funding for transportation will increase almost $131 million per year and create over 31,000 new jobs.
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The full text of Senator Inhofeís remarks follows:
Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
Conference on HR 3
June 9, 2005
Mr. Chairman: First, congratulations. I look forward to working with you to complete this bill quickly and get it to the President for his signature. I understand that our respective staffs have been working and have reached tentative agreements on several sections. . . . of course nothing is done until it is all done, but it would appear that we are making progress.
With the idea of making progress in mind ñ we only have 20 days left until the current extension expires ñ I want to encourage those who are working with the White House on the overall number to continue their work. The ìSafe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005î or SAFE-TEA, as passed by the Senate last month contains a higher level of funding than that proposed by the House or that requested by the White House. As one of the most fiscally conservative members of Congress, I can tell you that I have no hesitation to endorse what Senators Chuck Grassley and Max Baucus produced. Frankly, I believe the Senate number is too low based on the needs, but it is what is doable given the criteria laid out by the Administration in their FY2006 budget submission. I would request that the House Ways and Means members along with the Senate Finance members carefully examine the Senate provision and look for common ground. From my perspective there is much there that can be embraced by both bodies. I will let Chuck and Max explain in more detail what the Senate proposal does or does not do, but to my fellow conservatives, donít be persuaded by the White House position until you examine.
Mr. Chairman, our respective committees can also make progress on a related but very important issue of scope. House and Senate provisions are significantly different because of our respective bodies philosophical approach to returning money back to states, in other words how our respective bodies define and treat scope. The Senate is ready to set down and negotiate. We believe this is a critical first step in getting the bill done because we need to understand what the lay of the land is with respect to percentage of formula dollars to discretionary dollars. Again, I understand our respective staffs have begun discussions, but I hope you will join me in emphasizing that this is a critical first step to completion of the bill.
Briefly, the bill passed by the Senate makes what the we believe are important improvements to existing programs. Such as:
Safety: Nearly 43,000 people died in 2003 on our nation's highways. This represents the single greatest cause of accidental death for Americans ages 2 - 33. The Senate bill addresses this by creating a new core safety program and funding it accordingly.
Congestion: According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), time spent in congestion increased from 31.7% in 1992 to 33.1% in 2000. Based on this rate, a typical "rush hour" in an urbanized area is 5.3 hours per day. The problem is not in just urban areas; cities with populations less than 500,000 have experienced the greatest growth in travel delays, according to the DOT.
Perhaps the biggest and fastest growing cause of congestion in our urban centers are bottlenecks around ports and intermodal facilities. Freight movement in America is expected to grow dramatically in both volume and value over the coming decades. With increased international trade and movement toward a ìjust-in-timeî economy, freight shipping will take on heightened importance. The simple fact is that trade is the engine that is driving our economy and we cannot ignore the infrastructure needs at these freight gateways.
The Senate bill calls upon each State to designate freight coordinators to ensure that freight needs are considered during the transportation planning process. Furthermore, we provide States with the flexibility to use National Highway System dollars to fund the ìlast mileî connections at ports. Often times, port development occurs, but the connections to the larger transportation system outside of the port are not completed because of limited dollars.
Environment: The last ten years has seen improvements in our national surface transportation system; however in some instances this progress has been too slow and costly due to delays in completing the environmental reviews. Congress first dealt with this issue in TEA-21. However, in hearings leading up to this bill, it became clear that more needs to be done.
The Senate bill streamlines the project delivery by setting up a process for complying with environmental laws. Specifically, DOT is designated as the lead agency with authority to set work plans and schedules; to determine the purpose and need for a project; and to determine which alternatives must be considered. Some have argued that we are weakening environmental protections. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, we are strengthening environmental protections because we are making the review process work better, which means greater public participation and a process that will resolve issues rather than allowing disagreements between various agencies to slow down progress on critically needed infrastructure.
Those are some of the highlights of what I believe are critical provisions of the Senate bill. As the negotiations between our two bodies progress, there will be much discussion in greater detail on each provision. I would strongly encourage my conference colleagues not to grow weary in well doing . . . but to keep working. 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 over 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.
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.
What happens if we donít get this done:
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 on fuel consumption becomes 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.
Again, I thank the Chair and look forward to a successful conclusion to this bill.