Transportation Reauthorization Bill Update

US trucking companies and other transportation industry members could be facing a serious problem if Congress fails to authorize its long-term funding. The current bill that authorizes surface transportation programs like public transit, bridges, railroads, trucking and highways will expire on March 31, 2012. This means that Congress must enact a reauthorization bill to ensure that funding for these programs isn't interrupted. Unfortunately, the current bill, H.R. 7, is not moving smoothly.

Cuts previously made to the pensions of federal employees were intended to fund the transportation reauthorization. Instead, Congress used the funds from these cuts to cover the recent payroll tax cut, meaning that H.R. 7 is currently unfunded. House Republicans have proposed using new gas and oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and offshore sites to fund the package. President Obama disagrees with this funding method and has threatened to veto the bill of it relies on the new fossil fuel exploitation locations.

The bill has encountered other problems, too. The House version of the bill was recently delayed to shorten its term from five years, as proposed, to two years, the term of its Senate counterpart, S. 1813. On March 6, 188 mayors from cities all over the United States signed a letter which urged the House and Senate to move forward on the transportation bill. According to the mayors, bipartisan, bicameral efforts are required to keep trucking and public transportation moving properly. Without reliable, appropriate funding, the entire industry could suffer serious infrastructure problems.

Since cities and the metropolitan areas around them are responsible for about 90 percent of the US gross domestic product, or GDP, and more than 85 percent of the country's jobs, depriving them of their transportation infrastructure could have disastrous results. The cities require public transportation and truck driving jobs to keep them working on a day to day basis. The mayors also noted that they strongly opposed another pending House bill, which proposes shifting revenues from the gasoline tax away from the public transportation sector.

The mayors urged bipartisan legislation that would provide funding equivalent to current levels, plus an adjustment for inflation. This funding level would be required to maintain the existing transportation infrastructure and prevent further deterioration of roads, railroads and other services. Removing the revenue from the gas tax would put a greater burden on cities and their metropolitan areas, making it more difficult to provide basic transportation services all over the country.

Many current transportation projects would cease almost immediately, the mayors warned, resulting in serious job loss at a time when employment markets are poor. Construction is currently less costly than in previous years and produces important jobs that sustain both regional and local economies. When roads are kept in good condition, more truck driving jobs and other transportation employment are also available.

The mayors were joined by representatives of the National Retail Federation in urging quick action by Congress. Short-term extensions to the existing funding make long-term support seem less certain. This can shake confidence in the US transportation industry and reduce the competitiveness of US companies on the global market. The NRF praised portions of the bill that called for development of a national freight policy to help trucking companies reduce current bottlenecks in cargo movement.

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