WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, I – Vt., today joined in the kicked-off the inaugural meeting of the 73-member Conference Committee to reauthorize the nation's six-year highway bill. As the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Jeffords will help lead the conference for the Senate. In February Jeffords helped shepherd a $318 billion highway bill through the Senate. The House passed a $284 billion package and the White House has threatened to veto any bill over $256 billion. The federal funding will be used for transportation projects throughout Vermont including the completion of the Missisquoi Bay Bridge, safety improvements along Route 7, and maintenance and repair of highways and bridges throughout the state. Jeffords told the conference, "We cannot improve our highways, bridges and transit systems on the cheap. The completion of this conference depends on our ability to come to an agreement on funding. We owe it to the American people – the traveling public – to finish this job. This is our responsibility and ours alone." -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Statement of Senator Jim Jeffords Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Highway Bill Conference June 9, 2004 Together with the Chairman, we have all worked effectively as a team to advance this process. Today marks the beginning of the final leg of our journey. We have two very good bills that we must now meld into a final product. There are differences, of course, but both the House and the Senate have retained the essence of our very successful national transportation program. The funding levels in our two bills differ greatly. Naturally, I support the Senate level of investment. The Administration has threatened a veto for both of our bills. The President says that our bills are too expensive. The Administration would have us agree to a much lower investment level. The President’s bill would fail to even maintain current highway and bridge conditions. Congestion would increase under the President’s bill, and safety would decrease. But according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the Senate level of investment will stimulate enough economic activity, in new receipts, new jobs and economic multipliers, to return more to the treasury than the President’s purported savings. That’s why we call our bill an investment. It pays dividends. We cannot improve our highways, bridges and transit systems on the cheap. Mr. Chairman, this conference needs to address the funding level question as a first order of business. The completion of this conference depends on our ability to come to an agreement on funding. I want to work with you, with our Senate colleagues and with our friends from the House to establish a funding level that meets the nation’s transportation needs. I believe that the Senate level of investment is about right. At this level of investment, we can assure that all states benefit from growth in the program. We can address equity concerns of donor states and support member priorities throughout the country. But, none of these things can be accomplished at levels of investment lower than the Senate bill. We owe it to the American people – the traveling public – to finish this job. This is our responsibility, and ours alone. In the interest of safety, of jobs, and of strong and healthy cities and towns, let’s complete our work on a well-funded, long-term renewal of the surface transportation program. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.