STATEMENT OF SENATOR JOHN H. CHAFEE
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
OVERSIGHT HEARING ON THE REAUTHORIZATION OF THE INTERMODAL SURFACE TRANSPORTATION EFFICIENCY ACT
NOVEMBER 4, 1997

Good morning and welcome. We are here this morning to examine an issue of great concern, the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). Almost six weeks ago, the Committee on Environment and Public Works unanimously reported out S.1173, better known as ISTEA II. I am proud of our efforts to come to an agreement on a very difficult piece of legislation. We filed the report at the end of September, and we were prepared to complete action on the bill before the end of the calendar year. A number of events outside the control of this Committee, however, have prevented us from completing work this year on a six-year ISTEA reauthorization bill.

During today's hearing, we will focus on the status of Federal transportation programs in absence of a multi-year ISTEA reauthorization and will examine what we can do to resolve the situation before us. Some members of the Senate would like to adopt the six-month extension bill that was approved by the House earlier this month. Before doing so, however, I think that members should be aware of some of the consequences of such a decision.

As I see it, there are two potential pitfalls if the Congress enacts the House six-year extension bill. First of all, for most States, the House bill provides enough money for a year's worth of highway construction. The trouble with including funds that will not run out until next fall is that there will be no pressure to enact permanent ISTEA legislation until that time, right before the 1998 elections. As all of you know, it is tough to accomplish anything during an election year. It will be nearly impossible to enact a reauthorization bill so close to the 1998 House and Senate elections.

Second, the House six-month extension provides a smaller share of funding than the Senate six-year bill for 34 of the 50 States. For this reason, the House formulas are unacceptable to the majority of the members of the Senate.

Despite the differences of opinion over the House six-month extension, there are several things on which we can agree. First of all, there are a number of states that will be hard-pressed to survive on their existing unobligated highway funds through the Spring. Second, Federal truck safety programs, such as the motor carrier safety assistance program (MCSAP), which are outside the jurisdiction of this Committee, must be reauthorized. Third, the budget of the Federal Highway Administration, which relies on contract authority from the Highway Trust Fund, will be depleted before the Spring of 1998. Finally, failing to provide additional funds for the transit program, which is not in this Committee's jurisdiction, may carry some negative results.

Today, we will hear from a number of distinguished witnesses, including the Department of Transportation, the General Accounting Office, the National Governors Association, and the Transportation Construction Coalition, about their thoughts on how to proceed. I look forward to learning more about the potential outcomes of those options. Thank you.