I am here today to state very clearly my membership support for STARS 2000 which Senator Baucus and Senator Kempthorne and others are about to introduce. First, we have roads that need to be fixed, and STARS 2000 goes a long way toward addressing Montana's and the Nation's road needs. The bill starts to address funding crisis facing our highways and bridges. In Montana we have had an especially hard winter, and our highway system is showing the results of this hard winter. Extreme cold temperatures and above average snowfall are contributing to the breakup of our highway system. And it was kind of interesting coming over yesterday on I-90. The pictures that you have up there is exactly what I-90 looks like coming over the pass, only they have it a little bit wider. The snow is well above the level of the cars. It is almost like you are driving through a tunnel. So we can expect some real flooding problems coming up.
If you have traveled recently on I-90 as I did, you will find that in the Missoula area there are some potholes there that can almost eat your car. In fact, as I came over yesterday, part of I-90 is actually closed off. The passing lane has been shut down because of the weather problems, potholes and moisture coming up through the system.
STARS 2000 addresses the highway maintenance problems by directing a much larger proportion of the highway user dollars to the highways, where they belong. During the Congressional debates I hope that you can keep your colleagues focused on one primary fact. Highway users want the highway taxes put back into the highways. STARS 2000 is founded on this premise, and I hope you can keep that fact in the forefront during the upcoming debate.
In Montana we have a $0.27 per gallon fuel tax and one of the highest in the Nation. The citizens of Montana realize how essential our highways are and are willing via the fuel tax to pay for the cost of highway construction and maintenance. And given the fact that we heard on an average per citizen we pay $360 compared to a national average of $220, maybe in some ways we really are a donor state, because we are willing to pay for our highway systems in Montana and Idaho, and I think all of the western states are, because I think we realize the importance. The citizens redirect a substantially large portion of the Federal fuel tax dollars to highway construction and maintenance.
The second reason we are excited about STARS 2000 is the economic impact the bill will have in Montana. From my association's standpoint, highway job opportunities are significant, highway construction jobs that impact every Montana community. And each community wins about four times when there is a construction activity. First, it receives an improved and safer road. Second, local citizens are employed. Third, construction workers spend dollars in the local economy. And fourth, the community has an infrastructure asset that makes it more attractive to tourism, industry looking to locate and most importantly, businesses that want to remain in that community. It's a win, win, win, win, situation. And STARS 2000 is a winning solution for the Montana construction economy.
One thing that is kind of not in my prepared text but after listening to the educators up here of a concern to us in the construction industry is that we hope that whatever STARS 2000 or STEP 21, that comes out, a real concern to us is a trained work force. A lot of investment is made into yellow or whatever color equipment, and it is becoming much more sophisticated. And the need for a trained work force continues. So, however STARS 2000 or whatever vehicle is finally achieved, we hope that you will look at educating or providing funds for an educated work force.
Senators, the Nation is a winner with STARS 2000, and I ask that you introduce the bill immediately and work diligently to get it through Congress. The Montana Contractors Association and the citizens of Montana will work with you to see that STARS 2000 becomes the highway funding formula for the Nation.
Thank you both for listening, and Senator Warner for coming.