Vows to Meet Transportation Deadline
By Michele Fuetsch, Staff Reporter
This story appears in the Dec. 5 print edition of Transport Topics.
House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said last week that he would not introduce a transportation reauthorization bill until next year, dashing hopes of proponents to get a bill through to replace the funding that expired in 2009.
A temporary extension of the current law, the eighth such extension since the latest permanent reauthorization ended, expires March 31.
The House schedule does not allow sufficient time for him to introduce and mark up a bill before the end of the year, Mica told transportation experts gathered Nov. 29 at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.
“He reassured us that they could still complete action in the House and move to conference with the Senate on a timely basis,” said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation
In the Senate, a bipartisan, two-year reauthorization bill cleared the Environment and Public Works Committee Nov. 9, but that measure has yet to be voted on in the full Senate (11-14, p. 1).
Mica also said that, “as far as he was concerned, the March 31 deadline was a hard deadline, and that would force the House and Senate to take action by the deadline,” Horsley said.
After it adjourns for the holiday season, Congress will not be back in session until Jan. 17. It also will be out of session the week of Feb. 20 and the week of March 12.
“Republican leadership and the committee remain committed to moving this important infrastructure jobs bill early next year, likely in January or February,” Mica spokesman Justin Harclerode said.
Mica has said several times he will not vote for another extension of SAFETEA-LU, the existing surface transportation law, which expired in September 2009.
In 2005, after the House and Senate had voted on their respective versions of SAFETEA-LU, the bill lingered in a conference committee for more than two months before differences were resolved.
The Senate’s new $109 billion reauthorization bill would renew funding for only two years, but Mica has said such an approach is unacceptable to him. He and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said they will propose a five-year bill (11-21, p. 3).The senators have not proposed new revenue sources to pay for their plan, saying they are looking for offsets in the budget. Mica and Boehner, meanwhile, said at a Nov. 17 press conference they want to pay for infrastructure by expanding oil production offshore, in the nation’s shale oil regions and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said such a drilling plan would be unacceptable to the Senate and would cost jobs in the tourism and fishing industries.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a recent interview with the Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star that Congress must pass a highway bill before the end of the year or states will be unable to hire workers in time for the 2012 construction season.
A reauthorization bill “really translates into jobs for America,” LaHood told his hometown paper.