AASHTO Journal, 11 May 2012
Conferees from both the House and Senate expressed cautious optimism in passing a surface transportation bill during Tuesday’s first meeting of the Transportation Bill Conference Committee. Conferees from the Senate touted MAP-21, the two-year $109 billion surface transportation bill passed mid-March. The House conferees focused on HR 4348, their proposed 90-day extension of the current surface transportation authorization with the Keystone XL pipeline provisions passed April 18.
The 2 hour 40 minute conference meeting allowed for opening statements from all conferees, including five minutes for all committee chairs and three minutes for all remaining members.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California), who was elected to chair the conference committee, acknowledged that while passing a surface transportation bill will be difficult, it was not out of reach.
“Now, many pundits and experts have predicted gloom and doom when it comes to this bill,” Boxer said. “They were wrong in the past. They said it was over, it was gone, it would never happen, we’d never pass it through the Senate, the House wouldn’t act, we wouldn’t be here. We’re here.”
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Florida), elected the committee vice chairman, agreed with Sen. Boxer that the bill was certainly possible (referencing the passage of an FAA bill after 23 extensions), but stressed that the bill should include serious reform.
“Let me set some markers,” said Mica. “We’re going to have to pay for this and pay for this responsibly. We’re not going to raise taxes. Anyone who wants to raise taxes, you’re on the wrong conference committee. We must not include earmarks. And we can’t add to federal bureaucracy. We’ve got to cut red tape and start streamlining the process.”
Staffers for the conferees will now begin working on the following matters: highways, bridges, roads, and routes; finance; transit; highway safety; RESTORE Act; and any other issues that may be relevant to the bill including the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, the Keystone XL pipeline, and coal ash. The conferees will meet again if necessary before the current extension expires.
A video of the hearing is available at cs.pn/confercommvideo.