Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for conducting this hearing today on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s surface transportation reauthorization proposal.
Secretary Mineta, welcome. I appreciate your coming here this afternoon to present the Administration’s proposal. I am sure it has been difficult for you recently, but you are getting the job done, and the country is lucky to have people like you in public service.
The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether the Administration’s reauthorization budget proposal will be sufficientadequate to meet the nation’s surface transportation needs over the next several years. It is no secret that the nation’s transportation needs greatly exceed current investment at all levels of government. That is why I am especially concerned that under the Administration’s proposal, highway funding would not even reach current spending levels until fiscal year 2007.
I am convinced that transportation investment creates jobs and would provide a much-needed stimulus to our sluggish economy. For instance, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that for every $1 billion in federal spending on highway construction, 47,500 jobs are created. It is also estimated that every dollar invested in the nation’s highway system generates $5.70 in economic benefits due to reduced delays, improved safety, and reduced vehicle operating costs. That’s nearly a 6 to 1 return on investment.
A survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials shows that state transportation departments have 2,710 highway and bridge projects, valued at over $17 billion, which are ready-to-go if funding were made available to them. My state of Ohio has 228 ready-to-go projects valued at $752 million.
Mr. Chairman, Bureau of Labor Statistics show that average annual employment in highway construction is down nationwide, as much as 25 percent from peak employment levels over the last six years. In Ohio, employment in highway construction is down 13 percent from 2000 and is at its lowest level in six years. For example, one of Ohio’s largest construction companies recently told me that they have had to lay off 450 employees due to a lack or projects out for bid.
As a member of this Subcommittee – and its former chairman – I am eager to work on the reauthorization of the surface transportation program. As Chairman of the National Governors Association, I was involved in negotiating TEA-21 and lobbied Congress vigorously to even-out highway funding fluctuations and assure a predictable flow of funding to the states. TEA-21 achieved this goal with record, guaranteed levels of funding.
Under TEA-21, Ohio received a 23 percent increase in transportation funding.
TEA-21 also dedicated nearly all highway gas taxes to transportation funding and guarantees that states will receive at least 90.5 percent of their share of their contribution to the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund. One of my top priorities for TEA-21 reauthorization is to increase the minimum share for the 26 donor states to at least 95 percent. This increase in the rate of return would generate an additional $60 million or more in transportation revenues for the State of Ohio.
Tomorrow, Senator Carl Levin and I, along with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Congressman Baron Hill will announce the introduction of our legislation to increase donor states’ minimum rate-of-return to 95 percent. Currently, there are over 120 cosponsors of the House bill and 18 cosponsors of the Senate bill.
While TEA-21 has enabled states and localities to improve the condition of deteriorating and unsafe highways and to increase capacity and performance, the system is still aging, and in need of additional investment. However, I support the principle that the highway program is a fully user-fee based system that pays its own way. I am reluctant to borrow more money for highways.
I am pleased the Administration’s bill proposes that all revenue fromform gasohol taxes be deposited into the Highway Trust Fund rather than the General Fund of the Treasury, something many of my colleagues have asked for these last few years. I also understand the Finance Committee has proposed a way to resolve the remaining 5.2 cent per gallon ethanol tax incentive by no longer penalizing states that consume ethanol-blended fuel. These two solutions would increase Ohio’s gas tax receipts by an additional $160 million annually.
Mr. Chairman, another of my priorities for reauthorization is to enact an environmental streamlining provision which will actually expedite the project delivery process. I am disappointed with the implementation of the environmental streamlining provisions included in TEA-21, and I regret that we may have wasted an opportunity to realize the benefits of the expedited process that we envisioned five years ago.
In addition, as Chairman of the Clean Air Subcommittee, I am looking closely at the provisions in the Administration’s bill dealing with transportation conformity and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ). I am pleased to be participating in the discussions and drafting of these important planning and environmental provisions of the EPW Committee’s reauthorization bill.
Secretary Mineta, thank you for testifying this afternoon on the Administration’s SAFETEA bill. Despite the lateness of the proposal and disappointing funding levels, I believe the Administration should be commended for developing a proposal that makes saving lives a top priority. A total of 8,417 people died on Ohio’s highways from 1996 to 2001. I hope over the life of the next reauthorization bill this figure can be substantially reduced.
As a former Governor I believe states should have maximum flexibility to use their highway dollars to meet their own unique transportation needs. I am interested in hearing about the Administration’s proposals that would allow certain states to use their highway funds as a block grant as well as proposals that would allow certain states to assume some of the responsibilities of the Secretary under federal law to help streamline the project delivery process. Mr. Secretary, I know one state that could do the job.
Again, thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. I look forward to working with you on reauthorization in the upcoming weeks and months on this reauthorization.