Summer blockbuster

July 22, 2003

It's summertime in the nation's capital and things are heating up as Congress prepares to debate the future of the nation's highway and transit systems. There's a great deal at stake for the U.S. transportation construction industry. Here's a snapshot of where things stand on the "road to reauthorization."

It's summertime in the nation's capital and things are heating up as Congress prepares to debate the future of the nation's highway and transit systems. There's a great deal at stake for the U.S. transportation construction industry. Here's a snapshot of where things stand on the "road to reauthorization."

House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and Ranking Democrat Jim Oberstar (Minn.) March 12 announced their intention to pursue a six-year, $375 billion highway and transit investment proposal as part of the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). The investment levels in their plan are aimed at what the U.S. Department of Transportation's (U.S. DOT) 2002 "Conditions & Performance" report says are necessary to maintain current conditions and begin making improvements to the nation's surface transportation network. The increased investments in the plan also would help allow Congress to address the federal highway funding distribution formula.

Major provisions include:

* Drawing down the existing balance in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which currently stands at about $18 billion;

* Restoring the interest to the HTF, which could generate as much as $12 to $14 billion;

* Eliminating user-fee evasion, which would add $3 to $4 billion;

* Directing all revenues from existing gasohol user fees to the HTF, which would generate another $3 to $4 billion;

* Ensuring the HTF is fully compensated for the use of gasohol, which would generate $7 to $8 billion; and

* Restoring and preserving the purchasing power of the motor fuel user fee by linking the user fee to the Consumer Price Index. This would generate between $70 to $75 billion over six years.

Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) indicated in late April his panel plans to proceed with a reauthorization bill that provides a total of $311 billion in surface transportation authorizations--$255 billion for highways and $56 billion for transit.

This investment level is the amount called for in the Senate-approved EPW Committee amendment to the FY 2004 budget resolution that would have provided an average core highway program of $39 billion and transit program of $9.3 billion over the next six years. According to Inhofe, these investment levels are above the amounts assumed in the final FY 2004 budget resolution and, therefore, his plans may have to overcome procedural hurdles later this year.

On May 14, the Bush administration sent its TEA-21 reauthorization proposal, the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003" (SAFETEA), to Congress.

The proposal would utilize all forecasted revenues to the HTF, transfer revenue from a portion of the federal excise on gasohol sales (2.5 cents per gallon) from the General Fund to the HTF and slightly draw down the HTF cash balance. It would finance a six-year, $247 billion federal investment in highway and transit programs. Unfortunately, the proposal underscores the inadequacy of the existing user revenue stream to meet the nation's surface transportation needs outlined in the U.S. DOT report.

The revenue streams utilized in the proposal would result in a significant three-year drop in federal highway investment below the current year's $31.6 billion level. SAFETEA would fund the highway program at $29.3 billion in FY 2004, $30.3 billion in FY 2005 and $31.3 billion in FY 2006. The highway program would grow to $32.3 billion in FY 2007, ramping up to $33.9 billion in FY 2009. Under the proposal, federal investment in transit programs would be frozen next year and then increase by about $200 million per year over the life of the bill, growing from $7.2 billion in FY 2004 to $8.2 billion in FY 2009.

Providing insight

Since 2000, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) has been working with Congress and the Bush administration to stimulate discussion about the need to raise federal user fees to meet the highway and transit needs identified by the U.S. DOT.

ARTBA uses time-tested political tools to support its legislative agenda in Washington. Our direct lobbying is supported by grassroots education and mobilization, issue research, public opinion polling and message testing, advocacy advertising, development and distribution of issue education materials, media relations and coalition building, management and financial support. Last year, ARTBA launched the "Transportation Makes America Work!" (TMAW) campaign to raise financial support from the membership for these critical activities.

On the coalition front, ARTBA helped organize and now plays a leadership role in two groups that are helping push the industry's transportation investment agenda--the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) and Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM). The TCC, which ARTBA co-chairs with the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America, includes 28 national associations and unions representing transportation construction market interests. The ATM operates under the banner of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is directed at national education and mobilization of the general business community.

The TCC has been working to build support for the House T&I Committee bipartisan leadership proposal. At a May 13 news conference with Chairman Young, the TCC released an analysis by Global Insight--the world's leading econometric forecasting firm--which found the committee proposal would add $290 billion to the nation's Gross Domestic Product over the next six years.

Global Insight (formerly DRI-WEFA), a forecasting company with over 3,000 industry, finance and government clients, said the T&I Plan also would generate a $129 billion increase in consumer disposable income; a $98 billion increase in consumer spending which would benefit small American businesses; and an increase of $102 billion in federal tax receipts and an additional $140 billion in state and local tax receipts due largely to increased employment and corporate profits.

The Global Insight study is being distributed to all members of Congress, the Bush administration, national and local news media and other key policy makers. The full report is available at

TCC co-chair Pete Ruane, ARTBA president and CEO, and TCC co-chair Steve Sandherr, chief executive officer of AGC, held a May 21 news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to unveil an advertising campaign designed to build congressional support for the House T&I Committee proposal by directly responding to some conservative opponents of a highway user-fee increase. It includes print ads with excerpts from President Ronald Reagan's 1982 national radio address announcing his successful plan to raise the federal gas tax by five cents per gallon to finance expanded highway and mass transit investments.

The main message of the ad campaign: "It's OK to be a conservative and support an increase in the federal highway user fee for the right reasons." The ads will be appearing in the coming weeks in Capitol Hill publications and other Washington, D.C.-based newspapers.

You can do it

There are a number of things you can do now to help build support for the House T&I Committee leadership proposal.

First, get fully informed on reauthorization issues by visiting the "Government Affairs" section of the ARTBA website at

Second, communicate directly with your congressman and senators. You can be a source of information for members of Congress from your state. As a voting constituent, your legislators are very interested in what you have to say. Participate in town hall meetings or host a member of Congress at your business. The push for a needs-based TEA-21 reauthorization plan is a "heavy lift" that will not be successful without a strong support at the grassroots level by our industry.

Third, use the toll-free ARTBA Information Highway-Action Hotline (888/448-2782) to call your members of Congress or receive audio updates on important developments.

Fourth, take the messages about the positive impacts of transportation investment beyond our industry and directly to the community by contacting your local media and with letters to the editor.

Finally, you can provide support for the TMAW campaign to help ensure we have the necessary financial resources to wage a sustained and effective advocacy campaign on the industry's behalf. You can contact ARTBA at 202/289-4434 to learn more.

About The Author: Jeanneret is vice president of communications for ARTBA, Washington, D.C.

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