Thank you, Chairman Boxer. I would like to welcome Mr. Mendez. I have met with this nominee and I believe after our conversation that he is well qualified for this important position. The Federal Highway Administrator has always been a valuable partner of this Committee during the re-authorization process and I expect that this next bill will be no different.
I am pleased that the Administration has chosen such a qualified individual, and someone who recognizes the diverse transportation needs of this country. Heavily weighing in your favor was a conversation I had with my state=s Secretary of Transportation, Gary Ridley, who proudly relayed his support of your nomination. I greatly respect the opinion of Secretary Ridley, whom I believe is the best Transportation Secretary in the country.
The challenges in continuing to provide a safe and free flowing transportation network have never been greater. Making matters worse, we recently learned that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money some time before August of this year, and will require an infusion of $5 to $7 billion to get through the rest of fiscal year 2009. An additional $8 to $10 billion will be required in 2010.
Secretary Ridley has notified me that if we fail to fix the trust fund Oklahoma and most other states will not have the cash to honor infrastructure projects that have already been agreed to. As a result, my state will be forced to deprogram between $50 and $80 million in projects. This will be done by cancelling new projects and existing contracts that have already been signed, in addition to slowing down projects that have already broken ground. Clearly this would have a detrimental effect on the economy and will negate any gains made by the stimulus—which as I’ve said before, dramatically underinvested in infrastructure.
This truly complicates our efforts to reauthorize SAFETEA, which expires this October. Solving these challenges will require us all to work together. Unfortunately, there was a troubling development two weeks ago. This Administration hosted a conference call about the status of the Highway Trust Fund, sharing new, technical information about the inability of the Trust Fund to make required reimbursements to states. The White House set up the conference call and only invited Democratic staff to participate. This is completely unacceptable.
The last Administration was widely criticized last August for not being more open and transparent with Congress and states over this very issue. I would have hoped this Administration would not repeat mistakes previously made and be open and transparentCespecially with technical information.
At confirmation hearings, I ask every nominee if they will share information with both sides of the aisle at the same time. I will ask you the same thing, but will add a very strong caution. I cannot support your nomination unless you commit to me that the minority will be treated equally in getting information and responses to questions from the FHWA. Will you make such a commitment to me now?
Thank you. I look forward to your confirmation and working with you.