As prepared for delivery:
Thank you chairman Boxer. And thank you to our panelists for making the time to be here as well.
As we are all aware, CBO released their projections of the Highway Trust Fund last week that show that the accounts are in some real trouble. While this wasn’t unexpected, it is unacceptable that we continue to ignore the failures of the White House and Congress to commit to consistently funding multi-year transportation bills. We are not just talking about the construction jobs the President mentions, we are talking about the decision companies make when they are looking to expand and, in many cases, relocate back to the US yet are faced with an ill-equipped surface transportation network. As we focus on failed Unemployment Insurance extensions, we should be spending our time addressing the causes and not the symptoms of our economic woes. Whether we are facing a series of short-term extensions or long-term reauthorizations of MAP-21, I can assure you I will not let the federal highway program cease to be the backbone of our economy as it has been for close to a century.
As I see it, we have four choices moving forward: One, based on CBO estimates, if we don’t find any new revenue in the trust fund, we are looking at a 90% cut in the program in less than 8 months, and some data actually has that figure at 100%. Two, we simply transfer more money from the general fund. Three, we raise revenue. And four, in the absence of answering the first 3 before MAP-21 expires, we once again rely on a series of short-term extensions to keep the program on life support.
Now as many of you have heard me say over the years, dramatic cuts to the Highway program is not something I am going to let happen. We’ve turned to the general fund in the past and though it should be a last resort, it is ultimately something we will have to return to without consensus on new long-term, sustainable revenue. Realistically, the General Fund is our only option in the short run as we’re looking at a Highway Trust Fund that is going to have difficulty meeting its obligations sometime before the end of this fiscal year. Looking forward, if we want to do a 6 year bill like we should, CBO estimates we’ll need $100 billion, or around $16.6 million a year in new revenue or general fund transfers. Raising revenue for the Highway Trust Fund should be our first focus, but the reality is that it’s going to have to come from the general fund in the short term and you can’t tell me that maintaining unused or vacant federal properties at $25 million per year is more important than reauthorizing the highway bill which could provide jobs that Americans desperately need. Finally, I do not believe that short-term extensions are the answer. Our states, industries, and economy need long-term authorizations that ensure funding and allow for the planning of big, long-term projects of regional and national importance. I have often said the conservative position is to prevent short term extensions, because as history showed us after 9 extensions between SAFETEA-LU and MAP-21, we lose 30% of the Highway Trust Fund’s resources when we fail to achieve longer term funding bills. I believe we can do better.
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