Senator James M. Jeffords

Opening Statement

Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure

February 27, 2003

 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Senator Reid for convening this hearing on the President’s proposed budget for surface transportation. 

 

Today’s hearing marks the beginning of our committee’s reauthorization process in the 108th Congress.  I look forward to working with each of you, and with our Chairman, Senator Inhofe, on this important challenge. I also look forward to working with the Administration, with my good friend, the Secretary, Norman Mineta, and with Administrator Mary Peters, our witness for today’s hearing.  Welcome, Mary. 

 

And to you, Norm, get well soon and get back in the arena.  We will need your wise counsel in the months ahead.

 

Now, to the matter at hand.  I am “underwhelmed” by the Administration’s budget proposal for transportation.  It is inadequate; a step backward.  It underfunds transportation at a time of national economic need -- at a time America needs to create more jobs and invest in infrastructure. 

 

The President's budget is really about priorities and making choices -- and I think the Administration is significantly under funding transportation while proposing stock dividend tax cuts to the tune of $390 billion. 

 

Senator Voinovich, and others, has raised serious concerns about how the dividend tax cut could negatively affect construction projects.  I share those concerns, as do many on this Committee.

 

The Administration’s proposal also lacks vision.  When it comes to financing the program, two arguments should no longer be operative: “We’ve never done it this way before” and “We’ve always done it this way before.”   Instead, we need to seek new ways.

 

The President has called for a national campaign to develop cars and trucks powered by hydrogen-based fuel cells.  I support this.  The President wants this nation to break its dependence on foreign oil.  I agree, and welcome the air quality benefits it will generate.  But I recognize such a shift would have implications for the Highway Trust Fund.  As we turn to new sources of energy, we move away from our traditional source of revenues. 

 

We need to consider bold new measures to finance our surface transportation program.  Fuel taxes have not kept pace with program needs.  We are in a transition, moving from reliance on fossil-fuel user fees -- to deployment of a new system. We must start now to introduce the next generation of financing techniques for transportation.  All options must be on the table to ensure that our program is adequately funded.  Foreign and domestic corporations are now racing to perfect vehicles which may run on hydrogen, derived from water.

 

In addition, right now thousands of electric cars are sold each month in this country. Toyota plans to sell 300,000 of these “so-called” hybrid cars annually, by 2005.  This will nearly double the gas mileage, and reduce Trust Fund receipts nearly in half, for those cars. I understand that these hydrogen, fuel cell or electric cars could be on the road in much greater numbers in four or five years -- before our next T-bill expires.   Morgan Stanley predicts that these sales could grow to fifteen percent of all vehicle sales. While that is bad for the foreign oil cartels, it is great for American consumers.

 

Our old funding formulas are becoming obsolete.  We need an approach that distributes funds to solve transportation problems.  Let’s not waste time making arbitrary changes to arbitrary factors buried in outdated formulas.  Let’s get this job done, on time, by working together and addressing the nation’s needs.

 

I have a proposal for surface transportation renewal that will build on this principal.  My proposal recognizes the need to grow the program.  The 50 state transportation secretaries believe that we need a multimodal six-year reauthorization bill valued at, at least, $300 billion.  I agree. 

 

Spending at this level meets needs, and generates millions of good paying jobs This Committee held 14 hearings last year, with over 100 witnesses from 30 states and 60 organizations.  The hearing record runs to over 1,000 pages.  The hearings produced consensus on four priorities for the future program.  These form my pillars for reauthorization.

 

Safety is my first priority.  We have made real progress on highway safety over the last 10 years.   According to the US Department of Transportation, the rate of fatalities has declined from 1.9 to 1.5 deaths per million vehicle miles traveled.  But the number of fatalities has held steady at roughly 42,000 per year.  That number is unacceptable. 

 

We need to expand the safety program with a particular focus on two-lane rural roads, where a disproportionate share of fatalities occur.

 

My second pillar, and perhaps our most pressing national transportation need, is congestion. Today, over 60 percent of our population lives in large metropolitan areas. Congestion in those areas is bad and getting worse.  The Texas Transportation Institute estimates that Americans in metro areas experience 3.6 billion hours of delay annually.   Our current efforts are not working. We need to target congestion, improve access and enhance mobility. 

 

Third, we must continue our focus on Asset Management.  We have made progress over the last ten years improving the condition of our nation’s highways and bridges.  To continue this positive trend, we must increase our investment in system preservation.

 

"Freight and Trade" is my fourth pillar.  Growth in the volume of goods moved in our country is rapidly overwhelming our ports, borders, corridors and Intermodal terminals. The forecast for future demand is daunting, with the U.S. DOT projecting that the volume of freight will increase 70 percent by 2020.  I want to see our nation expand freight capacity through new partnerships, investments and market financing techniques.

 

My proposal for reauthorization, then, is simple. I want to produce a national bill, one that grows the program to keep pace with our national needs.  I want to benefit all states. Let’s create a new, flexible and focused program to address our nation’s needs.

 

Let us focus on solving problems, be it freight or safety or congestion.  Let us not focus on the mode, nor on the process, nor on the politics. Let us eliminate barriers, expand flexibility, and free state and local officials to solve problems by applying the right solutions for their particular area.

 

I look forward to working with you, Mr Chairman, with Senators Inhofe and Reid, and with all of our colleagues to get this job done.

 

I also appreciate the help we have received from the Administration and look forward to hearing from Ms. Peters today and working with US DOT in the months ahead for a strong America. 

 

Thank you.