INHOFE SUCCESSFUL IN GETTING HIGHWAY MONEY BACK TO OKLAHOMA
"I Am Proud To Announce Tonight That the Senate Voted In Favor Of Legislation to Ensure Highway Projects In Oklahoma and the Nation Can Continue As Scheduled"
September 10, 2008

blank_pageContact:

Marc Morano 202-224-5762

marc_morano@epw.senate.gov

Matt Dempsey 202-224-9797

matthew_dempsey@epw.senate.gov

 

INHOFE SUCCESSFUL IN GETTING HIGHWAY MONEY BACK TO OKLAHOMA

"I Am Proud To Announce Tonight That the Senate Voted In Favor Of Legislation to Ensure Highway Projects In Oklahoma and the Nation Can Continue As Scheduled."  

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, tonight said that the Senate vote in favor of the short term solution for the Highway Trust fund is great news for Oklahoma. Last Friday, Congress was notified by the Department of Transportation that the Highway Trust Fund would run out of money sometime in the next two weeks.  As recently as this summer, DOT estimated it would remain solvent until next summer.  However, due largely to extremely high gas prices, receipts deposited into the Highway Trust Fund have been dropping precipitously in recent months.  That combined with a busy construction season caused the trust fund balance to fall from $4.2 billion at the end of July to less than $1.4 billion at the beginning of September.  State DOTs responded to this announcement by delaying vital construction projects. Through his leadership position on the EPW Committee, Senator Inhofe successfully worked with his Senate colleagues to ensure passage of a short term fix.

"As a long time champion for Oklahoma's transportation needs, I am proud to announce tonight that the Senate voted in favor of legislation to ensure highway projects in Oklahoma and the Nation will be able to continue as scheduled," Senator Inhofe said. "Through my leadership position on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I have spent the last few days reaching out to Republicans and Democrats colleagues to ensure passage of this critical bill that will allow projects to continue as planned. Tonight I am proud to announce we got the job done in the Senate.

"This bill simply returns the $8 billion back into the Trust Fund that was taken out 10 years ago in TEA21. Although I agree with some of my colleagues that the Highway program has grown to include things that are not in the federal interest and do nothing to save lives or reduce congestion, these issues are more appropriately dealt with in the upcoming highway reauthorization in 2009. 

"I want to especially thank Oklahoma Highway Director, Gary Ridley, whom I believe is the best highway director in the country, for his leadership on this issue over the past few days. I have had many a phone calls with Gary at odd hours of the day and night and I can confirm that he is always available and on top of things.  In fact, he and I have been in close contact since it became clear that the Highway Trust Fund could go broke as early as this week. Today, he was here in Washington DC to testify before my Committee and I am happy that when he heads back to Oklahoma tomorrow he can rest assured a fix will be going back with him."

Floor Remarks by Senator Inhofe

 

This past Friday, I was notified by the Department of Transportation that the Highway Trust Fund would run out of money sometime in the next two weeks. 

As recently as this summer, DOT estimated it would remain solvent until next summer.  However, due largely to extremely high gas prices, receipts deposited into the Highway Trust Fund have been dropping precipitously in recent months. 

That combined with a busy construction season caused the trust fund balance to fall from $4.2 billion at the end of July to less than $1.4 billion at the beginning of September.  State DOTs responded to this announcement by delaying vital construction projects.

In my state of Oklahoma, the director of the state DOT, Gary Ridley, was forced to take dramatic-and prudent-actions.  $80 million in projects that were bid in August were postponed.  A further $60 million in projects scheduled to be let in September are on hold until the trust fund is fixed. 

Furthermore, at the point when the trust fund officially runs out of money-which will be within the next 8 days unless we enact a fix-work on countless projects currently under construction will be halted.

The uncertainty over the Federal Government's ability to make good on financial promises made in law is forcing states to substantially disrupt their highway programs, resulting in thousands of lost construction jobs.  

This could not have happened at a worse time, as our nation is in the height of its construction season.  It goes without out saying that we can not afford to sustain this unnecessary hit to our economy.  

Once a project is cancelled or delayed, and jobs are lost, it is not as simple as just restarting the project, as there will be penalties to the states and in many cases a new contracting process.  For states that depend on federal dollars for a majority of their transportation spending, like mine and many others, failing to make this fix in short order will be catastrophic for our states.

Finally, despite arguments to the contrary, HR 6532 is not a raid on the general fund.

In fact the opposite is true, Section 9004 of TEA21 deemed that on October 1, 1998, the opening balance of the Highway Trust Fund shall be $8 billion, even though on the day before, the balance was over $16 billion.

I ask my colleagues what happened to that other $8 billion . . . the answer is it was transferred over to the general fund.

In reality, this is money that was raised by highway users.   This bill simply returns the money back into the Trust Fund to be used for what taxpayers thought they were paying for in the first place.

Now, those who were involved in the debate at that time will argue that the $8 billion transfer to the general fund was a part of the overall TEA-21 deal.

I thought it was a bad deal then and I still think it was a bad deal.

Furthermore, TEA21 stated that no longer would the general fund pay interest to the Trust Fund for any balances. 

In other words, the general fund has had a 10 year interest free loan from the Trust Fund.

Giving back the $8 billion to the Trust Fund now is not fiscally irresponsible, it's the right thing to do.

Although I agree with some of my colleagues that the Highway program has grown to include things that are not in the federal interest and do nothing to safe lives or reduce congestion, these issues are more appropriately dealt with in the upcoming highway reauthorization in 2009. 

Now is not the time to stall Congressional legislation that restores the $8 million, taken from the Trust Fund in 1998.  The fact is, a significant number of jobs depend on Congress' immediate action.

Failing to act would be devastating not only for our state's infrastructure, but also for our jobs and economy.

Previous Press Releases:

Inhofe Urges Immediate Action to Prevent Highway Trust Fund Insolvency

Highway Trust Fund Fix Approved By Appropriations Committee

Inhofe Leading The Push For Legislative Fix

Inhofe Opening Statement: Hearing On Future Federal Role For Surface Transportation

Inhofe: A Fix For The Highway Bill Is A Top Priority

 

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