Several have the urge to write a letter during the holiday season. Unfortunately, representatives Don Young (R-Ark.), James Oberstar (D-Minn.), Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) and Robert Borksi (D-Pa.) weren’t in the mood to toy around.
Hours before President George W. Bush signed the FY 2002 transportation spending bill, the leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a "Dear Colleague" letter opposing a $423 million cut in revenue aligned budget authority (RABA) to the states. The House and Senate Appropriations Committee redirected the money by earmarking specific projects. Twenty of the 22 jobs—including the top 12—will go to the districts or states of members of the committee.
Sources said the provision was inserted about two hours before the transportation bill went for a final vote, and several lawmakers weren’t aware of the move.
Struggling states have been forced to cut transportation budgets in recent months (see The welfare lane, December 2001, p 10), and the sudden switch outraged some lawmakers. Young, Oberstar, Petri and Borksi showed their anger on paper.
"In the near future, each state will receive notice from the Federal Highway Administration telling it to disregard the October 2001 notice it received regarding its share of highway funds for fiscal year 2002 provided under TEA-21," the letter stated. "The bottom line of the FHWA notice will be simple—the appropriators rewrote the law and now every state loses, generally more than 10% of its RABA funds.
"The appropriators have skewed the highway formula, through project earmarks at the expense of every state, to the select few."
In response, House appropriations committee members wrote their own "Dear Colleague" letter, stating only 4% of the total $33 billion highway program appropriation has been used for "specific projects identified as high priorities by Congress, at the request of its members."
The House appropriations committee members also argued that nearly 2,000 projects were requested, more than four for every congressional district. "So while some members apparently believe that 100% of federal highway dollars should be controlled by state officials or federal bureaucrats, apparently four-fifths of the House do not. Nor do we."
The group also questioned the funding table distributed by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, stating, "All states receive more formula and specific project funding from our bill than they received last year."
Matt Jeanneret, director of public affairs for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, understood the stance taken by both sides, but reiterated the importance of record-level funding.
"Overall, we’re very pleased with the levels," he told Roads & Bridges. "It’s another record investment in transportation, and there’s a $2 billion increase in highway over last year."
Still, signs point toward a bumpy reauthorization process."Potentially we’re heading down a slippery slope here with reauthorization a little more than a year away," Jeanneret said. "What’s clearly happening now is that we’re setting the stage for a political battle that’s going to come up between the authorizers and the appropriators. We have continuing concerns about the appropriators departing from the letter and spirit of TEA-21."