Boxer and Inhofe Agree: Transportation Policy Reform Can Wait

Green transportation advocates are pressing Congress
to refuse any new spending that’s not tied to reform of the existing
system — a call that influential senators in both parties ruled out
today.

peasinpod.jpgPhoto: CNN

Senate
Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
joined Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK), the panel’s ranking GOPer, in endorsing
another 18 months of the 2005 transportation bill.

The extension, Boxer said, should be "clean as it can be, clean
as a whistle … not with these policy changes, because it will in fact
jeopardize a quick passage of this extension."

Boxer’s
agreement to an extension free of policy reforms appears to be an
acknowledgment that Inhofe and most other GOP senators would slow down
approval of the short-term transportation measure. But she faced a lone
critic today in Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who challenged Boxer to
back down from her opposition to raising the federal gas tax during an
economic recession.

"I will tell you that if you go out to the people of America
and say [a gas tax hike] is the solution, they’re not going to buy it,"

Boxer said.

Voinovich
reminded the Californian that she "is always talking about the
environment; [drafting a new transportation bill] is going to have a
huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions." He suggested that senators
"look at" the House transportation bill
offered by Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and pitch the American public on an
increase in the gas tax, which has remained static since 1993.

In fact, recent polling supports
Voinovich’s argument, not Boxer’s. A survey released earlier this year
by the advocacy group Building America’s Future found that 81 percent
of Americans would pay more in federal taxes to support infrastructure
investments.

But the alignment
of Boxer and Inhofe, as well as Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) — whose Finance
Committee must agree on a revenue source for the next transportation
bill — in favor of a clean 18-month extension is enough to doom the
House effort to pass a bill this year.

Boxer described the
process as a "two-track effort," promising to work on a
"transformational" long-term transportation bill during the 18-month
extension period of the existing law.

Given Congress’ full plate and Boxer’s focus
on climate change legislation, however, the chances of passing a
broader six-year transportation bill before 2011 look slim right now.

Boxer
closed the hearing by asserting that the lack of a revenue source for a
new transportation bill, not the crowded congressional calendar, is
driving her support for a "clean" 18-month extension.

"For
those who want to focus on transformation, I urge them to work with me
on my global warming bill," which will have a transportation portion,
she said.

  • David “Buster” Fitzpatrick

    I’m not so sure that extending the current Bush-era transportation legislation is good idea. One of the problems is the requirement that 80& of the funding has to provided by the local and/or state government in order to get any transit project started. There are many people like me who for various mental, economic, and political reasons can no longer drive. Another problem is that there should be more funding available to transit agencies to both avoid service cutbacks and add to their systems. We’re living at a time where the highway/suburban sprawl paradigm is no longer valid.

  • indiana46278

    Appreciate Inhofe’s cojones; but where were they during the Bush Administration? I suppose it’s easy to promote a gas tax when it’s a democratic president who has to sign it?