This session of Congress will likely include extensive consideration of not only how we finance our national infrastructure but also what our transportation policies should aim for as we head into the 21st century.
The dynamic flow of commerce and individuals is continually subject to change. While our transportation policies may not always be able to anticipate these changes, they must be flexible enough to accommodate them. All of us have varying opinions about the best way to meet these changes. However, I believe there are some areas of common ground that all of us can agree on as we establish the framework for reauthorizing the ISTEA.
- Our transportation policies must recognize the importance of providing adequate dollars for improvement and maintenance of our infrastructure.
- The policies should not favor one region over another, as the steady flow of commerce across state lines is in the nation's best interests.
- Funding formulas should provide states with sufficient funding to meet the changing infrastructure needs they face.
- While some push for devolution, all of us agree that federal regulations have to recognize the need for greater flexibility at the state level.
- Because we have a national transportation policy we must recognize that there are often unique interstate needs that otherwise would not be addressed but for a federal program.
I believe the unique regional perspectives all of us bring to this issue will ultimately allow us to forge a coherent national policy. I represent a state that just happens to be the fastest growing state in the country. We have 5,000 new people moving into the state of Nevada every month. Because funding formulas are based on old census data it is nearly impossible for Nevada to receive the proper financing necessary to accommodate is growth.
Nevada is also unique in that 87 percent of the land is owned by the federal government. To appreciate how much land this is consider the fact that in the areas in between our interstates, you can fit the states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Delaware. That's a lot of federal land. Because the federal government owns these lands the state of Nevada receives little or no taxes from these lands but must still provide for intercontinental activity across these areas. In order for all states to enjoy the benefits of our economy we must be able to build and maintain these lines of commerce, and federal lands programs is the source of much of the funding for these areas.
Nevada is also a bridge state. Much of the traffic is interstate traffic. We play an important role in interstate commerce. But the need for improving and maintaining these interstates arises out of the damage caused largely by non- Nevada traffic. It is difficult for me to explain to my constituents why we are underfunding basic maintenance projects when they see firsthand the infrastructure degradation caused by out of state traffic traveling on our interstates.
Finally, I am concerned that while we have consistently articulated a coherent national transportation policy, we have failed to provide the adequate funding necessary to support these policies. Specifically, I am troubled by the current budgetary gimmickry being played with the Highway Trust Funds. The games being played with the highway trust fund are penny-wise and pound-foolish. I have introduced legislation to take the highway trust fund off budget and believe this action is necessary if we are serious about meeting our transportation objectives.
Our nation's infrastructure represents the lifeline that fuels our economy. When we neglect to adequately provide for the health of this lifeline all of us suffer. Whether its unsafe and degraded roads or pollution caused from over congestion, all of us are affected. The price is not only the inconvenience of traversing a dilapidated infrastructure. Indeed, the real price is the increased costs all of us pay for goods and services because of the burdens placed on a steady flow of the stream of commerce. It's similar to cholesterol build up in the arteries -- eventually there is a steep price to pay.
I look forward to being an active participant in rewriting a bill that will allow us to continue into the next millennium as the world's foremost economic powerhouse. By providing coherent, efficient and flexible transportation policies we will surely rise to the great challenges of the 21st century.