Rule change could cut highway spending

House T & I Committee Chairman working with leadership to prevent the repeal of a TEA-21 provision, but Republicans believe the move will help reduce the federal deficit

News Streetsblog Capitol Hill January 04, 2011
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Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) has not even had the chance to warm his seat as the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, but he is quickly warming up to the wants and needs of the industry.

Responding to a strong outcry against the repeal of TEA-21 provisions, Mica is working feverishly with other representatives and leaders to protect the Highway Trust Fund. The Republican-dominant House is expected to vote on rule changes Jan. 4 and 5, and one possible outcome could lift a protective measure that prevented lawmakers from reducing Highway Trust Fund spending so that spending elsewhere could be increased. The proposed rhetoric still guarantees not to spend Highway Trust Fund balances for anything outside of transportation, but eliminates the part where lawmakers promise to spend the entire Highway Trust Fund balance for transportation-related items.

Several industry associations, including the Associated General Contractors of America, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the American Concrete Pavement Association, the American Highway Users Alliance, the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials, and the American Traffic Safety Services Association, signed a letter to members of House leadership objecting to the change.

Republicans, however, believe the rule change will support a campaign promise of reducing the federal deficit.

“This proposal simply ensures we won’t be required to spend more on transportation projects than we take in,” Brendan Buck, spokesman for the Republican transition team, said in an e-mail to The Hill newspaper. “At the same time it protects the Highway Trust Fund by ensuring every penny of the gas tax is spent on highway and transit projects.”

The effect of the move runs deeper than that, according to industry trade associations. The fear is Congress would be able to cut spending below the guaranteed levels in the legislation, an action that has been extremely difficult to execute. Under the existing provision, any member of Congress can raise a point of order to stop a reduction in spending of the Highway Trust Fund.

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