Senator Max Baucus
OPENING STATEMENT FOR HEARING ON
I am pleased that for the first time before the Transportation Subcommittee, since her nomination hearing, we will be hearing from our newest Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters. Welcome Mrs. Peters, I look forward to your testimony and the testimony of the others.
Iíd like to start off this morning by mentioning how much TEA 21 has helped our nation address our infrastructure needs and our employment needs.† This is especially true in my state of Montana. TEA 21 has been a crucial tool for us. The bill is not perfect, but itís a very good bill that an overwhelming majority agreed upon, at the end of the day. Along with Senators John Chafee and John Warner and others, I was directly involved in drafting TEA 21 in the Senate.†† I am proud of that work and I look forward to working closely with the leadership of this committee on the next bill.
My concern here today is held Iím sure, by all the Committee members -- the shortfall in highway funding for FY 03.† This is unacceptable.† This country cannot afford a 27% decrease in highway funding.
For the past 6 months Congress has been discussing the best ways to stimulate the economy.† Even though we are no longer working on an economic stimulus bill, we face a real crisis that will negatively affect our economy.† We face unprecedented losses to our highway program. Every state will lose money.
If we want to create true stimulus and maintain jobs for our citizens then there is an easy solution.† Highways.† For every $1 billion dollars that goes into the highway program, 42,000 jobs are created. In an attempt to address unemployment concerns and immediate stimulus to the countryís economy, I, along with others on the Environment and Public Works Committee, have introduced S. 1917.† This bill would restore the authorized levels for fiscal year 2003. It doesnít get us all the way there, but itís a start.
This is about jobs. Skilled and unskilled jobs in highway construction are well-paid. These jobs provide employment opportunities for workers who have lost manufacturing jobs, with minimal training requirements. In addition, we need to ensure that current jobs will not be lost in many of the supplier and heavy equipment manufacturing industries.†† Without at least restoring TEA 21 levels, over 360,000 jobs will be lost.
For my state of Montana that means a $71 million loss to our highway program.† And in Montana, Highways are our lifeblood.† We need the highways and we need the jobs created from new highway funding.† Also, we canít afford to lose any highway-related jobs because of this under funding.
There is $20.5 billion in the Highway Trust Fund.† We can afford at least the $4.369 billion from that balance to be distributed over the next year.† We could afford more. In fact, we canít afford not to.
This extra $4.369 billion only begins to take care of this huge problem that we face. I would like to see even more of an increase to the FY 03 level.†
Considering the Presidentís focus on jobs in his ĎState of the Unioní address, I am dismayed that the Presidentís budget did not take these concerns into consideration and propose these changes.
I am hopeful, however that given the state of the economy and our need for highway investment and jobs, he will support at least the FY 03 authorized level if not more.
Given our limited highway resources, it is my intention as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee to take measures to increase the money in the Highway Trust Fund.† I will be looking at the effect that the ethanol subsidy has on the Highway Trust Fund and also at Highway Fuel Tax Evasion.† I am committed to the use of ethanol-blended fuels, but I am insistent that the Highway Trust Fund be held harmless to any costs. Resources are too scarce to tolerate losses.
Additionally, I will be working with the leadership of this committee to explore innovative ways to fund highway projects to supplement the Highway Trust Fund dollars.
The next issue Iíd like to speak about is environmental streamlining. To your credit, Administrator Peters, you have made repeated statements regarding the need to streamline the process by which environmental approvals are obtained to construct new transportation projects.† Before you were nominated for this position, you were a strong advocate for streamlining the planning and environmental processes.† It is my hope that your zealousness continues and you remain active on this front.††
At present, the process for allowing highway projects to move forward is painfully long.†† The rule that was issued 2 years ago clearly missed the mark.† It is my hope that you will go back to the drawing board, as they say, and issue a regulation that will help states expedite the project approval process without and I emphasize without weakening environmental protections.
††††††††††† Thank you for the time Mr. Chairman. I look forward to todayís testimony.