Statement of Sen. Max Baucus
ISTEA Reauthorization
Coeur d'Alene, ID
March 22, 1997

I want to tell all of you, too, here in Idaho what an honor it is for me to be here along with John Warner and Dirk Kempthorne. John Warner is a great senator. There are public servants, as we all know, and public servants. John Warner stands out as one of the best. He is very solid. He calls them as he sees them. Very gracious. I am very honored, and I know all of us in the Northwest, particularly here in Coeur d'Alene are honored that he is here with us. And I want to thank you, John, for being here with us.

STARS 2000 is the highway bill that I am going to be introducing after the recess. Dirk is going to be joining me, as well as some other Senators. And it's a bill we think, having worked this out together, is one that is probably the most fair, the most evenly-balanced bill among the competing bills now facing the Congress with respect to highway funds. And I say that with very deep respect to Senator Warner, because he has also introduced a bill which is very similar. It is called STEP 21. But they are actually much more similar and alike than they are dissimilar, and I have a strong feeling that the two bills in many ways are going to merge and become not only one but the major bill.

We should recognize and remember the national aspect of our highway program. Back in 1926 a young army officer, Dwight Eisenhower, just for a lark signed on a convoy going across the country from eastern United States to California, he and another officer. And it was during that trip that he realized just what shape our roads were in. I mean, they got stuck in mud. And he felt at that time what this Nation needs is a National Highway System, national highway program.

Then it was during World War II, his idea became even more defined when he saw the German autobahn system. He realized that we need not just one-lane roads or two-lane, but we need four-lane roads. We needed to expand upon this. That really was the genesis of our Federal highway interstate highway system.

The big question was how to finance it. He thought that it should be financed locally, that people who use it ought to pay for it. But that didn't make a lot of sense here in the West, because we have a lot more space than we do people, and we couldn't finance it. Eventually, agreement was finally reached, as is the case often with legislation; it is a compromise, and the final result was our current highway system where everybody pays gasoline taxes into the trust fund, and then the trust fund then redistributes those dollars back to states on hopefully a very fair balanced basis.

It is a national program. And one main point of the hearing today is to make sure it is indeed a national program. Senator Warner mentioned there are those in the East that would like to tilt it toward the Northeast. We in the West want to make sure that the final result is fair. We don't want more than our fair share. We want to make sure we get our fair share.

And this hearing today will help develop a record of all the unique aspects that we have here in the West, more Federal land, for example, than the East; great distances; lower per capita income; higher state gasoline taxes; freezes and thaws, the pavement freezes and thaws; and our weather conditions; and lots of factors that we have here in the West that most other states don't have that to have a fair, balanced program means that those factors should be recognized in the bill.

It is the culmination of effort of Senator Kempthorne's staff and staffs of other Senators in the West. .