Opening Statement for Max Baucus
January 24, 2002
Thank you Mr. Chairman. It is my pleasure to be here today to discuss the reauthorization of a law that I am privileged to have helped write. Along with Senators Warner and Chaffee and others on this Committee and on other Committees, we hammered out a bill that I believe was equitable to all states and that served this nation=s transportation system well.
TEA 21 staked out new ground by putting into law the requirement that all gas tax revenues be devoted to highways. Some of the members in this room were instrumental in achieving that goal. Now I don=t have to remind you of the difficult debates we had over funding formulas among the three main groups, northeast states, donor states, and western states. But in the end, we achieved a bill that was supported by the vast majority of Senators. So the final result, while not perfect, was a good compromise and was broadly supported.
I look forward to working with the leadership on this Committee and other committees to develop a new highway bill that will help to continue many of the ideas that TEA 21 began--the integrity of the Trust Fund, the budget firewalls and an equitable distribution of formula dollars.
I plan to hold hearings on the Finance Committee addressing the balances in the Highway Trust Fund and on innovative ways of financing transportation projects.
I plan to use my role as Chairman of the Finance Committee to gain more funding for the program and to protect the Highway Trust Fund. As always I am committed to highways and to the Highway Trust Fund.
I personally have several ideas about what I would like to see in a new bill and as I do for every reauthorization, I will be introducing a highway bill in the coming months. I have been working with the Montana DOT and other western states to develop ideas for the next several years of highway policy. I assure you that my bill will not serve the West to the detriment of other states. Quite the contrary. My bill will be a national bill and a decidedly pro highway bill.
Once again, I look forward to being very active and assisting the leadership of this Committee as much as I can, as we embark on this new chapter in highway law.
There is something of concern that I would like to mention here today, particularly in the presence of our distinguished Secretary of Transportation. It has come to my attention that because of various factors, the RABA for this year will be negative. In fact I have heard predictions that we are looking at a program that is $9 billion less than the FY 02 program. We must do something about this. We cannot go into the next reauthorization with such a low baseline. If this is in fact the case and we are looking at a lower program over the next few years, I would support the influx of new obligation authority to the states for the next two years. This would prevent the base numbers for the next highway bill from going down too much. I hope that Secretary Mineta will address this in his remarks today and that this Committee, the Finance Committee and the Administration can work together to alleviate this problem that will plague our reauthorization efforts if not addressed.
I look forward to today=s hearing and future hearings as we prepare for the next reauthorization.