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Federal transportation bill moving ahead
by: JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Thursday, November 10, 2011
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WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said Wednesday that a two-year transportation bill, if ever fully funded, would keep Oklahoma's federal money for road projects at roughly $650 million per year.
A major player on transportation issues as the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Inhofe said that panel's unanimous vote for the bill shows momentum for passing "this important jobs legislation."
"The next step is to address the $12 billion shortfall in funding," the Oklahoma Republican conceded.
"I am confident we will find the needed funds. Doing so is essential to jump-start the economy for Oklahoma and the nation."
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which is expected to come up with a plan to fund the transportation bill, pledged by "hook or crook" to find the money.
"I've got some ideas," Baucus said, adding whatever approach his committee takes must be bipartisan.
If a funding source can be found to allow the bill to move forward, it would keep federal transportation funding at current levels plus inflation.
That alone represents something of a departure; Inhofe recalled the days of surpluses in the Highway Trust Fund.
Other major changes in the bill included the current ban on earmarks, consolidation of about 90 existing transportation programs at the federal level down to less than 30, creation of a program focused on freight and expansion of an existing program that allows federal dollars to be leveraged to do more.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate panel, again promoted that change in Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program, adding rural states would be more likely to participate in that program.
Boxer cited the language on the so-called transportation enhancement projects such as bike paths as perhaps the most difficult.
Inhofe also highlighted that change in his comments.
For the first time, he said, states such as Oklahoma that do not want to spend money on such enhancement projects could direct the money to unfunded mandates, including stormwater and wetlands mitigation.
According to information provided by Inhofe's office, Oklahoma would receive $1.22 for every $1 state residents pay in federal gas taxes under the bill.
The funding would support 45,000 jobs in the state, Inhofe's office said.
Current stop-gap legislation keeping federal transportation dollars flowing to states expires March 31.