House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) joined members of the transportation community on Feb. 25 to highlight the importance of improved highway funding equity in the continuing debate on the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (TEA-LU), the transportation reauthorization bill now before the U.S. House of Representatives.
The press conference was held while about 400 members of the transportation community were gathered on Capitol Hill for the Transportation Construction Coalitions 2004 Fly-In.
Standing alongside DeLay at the press conference was Baron Hill (D-Ind.). Indiana and Texas are both "donor" states, which receive less in Federal-Aid Highway funding than they send to Washington in motor fuel taxes.
A group of donor states has banded together into States Highway Alliance for Real Equity (SHARE).
SHARE wants to ensure that all federal highway program funds fall under the so-called "minimum guarantee" for funds distributed to the states and ensure a 95% minimum rate of return on each states share of payments to the Highway Trust Fund.
"Texas money should be spent on Texas mobility to create Texas jobs--its only fair," DeLay said. "Texas and other donor states have been sending highway money to Washington for decades without seeing a fair return on that investment."
Texas has lost $5.3 billion and 250,000 jobs since 1956 because of the inequity in highway spending, according to SHARE.
Under TEA-21, the six-year transportation authorization that was to expire last year but was extended, each state was guaranteed a minimum rate of return of 90.5% each year.
TEA-LU currently aims to provide $375 billion for transportation construction over the next six years.
The TCC members were in Washington, D.C., to lobby for a minimum of $318 billion, which is what the Senate reauthorization bill calls for. The Senate concluded that $318 billion was the most that could be achieved without an increase in the federal gas tax.
The Senate has passed its bill; the House has not passed its bill.
The White House has suggested a reauthorization bill that would spend $256 billion over six years.
DeLay commented that the White Houses $256 billion "is not a number anyone is talking about." He expected a significant increase from there for the final bill to come out of a House-Senate conference committee.
DeLay also said an increase in the gas tax was "dead at this point."
Considering that TEA-LU relies on an increase in the gas tax to reach the $375 billion mark, a realistic estimate might put the final amount much closer to the $318 billion passed by the Senate than either the White House or U.S. House numbers.