Highway bill debate ramps up; LaHood rejoins the fray

By Kevin Jones on

With the federal plan to pay for America’s surface transportation system set to expire Oct. 1, Congress takes its first official look at a new highway bill next week – and policy groups, the trucking lobby and business interests are all rolling out their wish lists.

On Capitol Hill, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold the first reauthorization hearing on Tuesday. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. EST.

The witnesses, announced Wednesday, will be Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, on behalf of the National Governors Association; Caterpillar Inc. Group President Stuart Levenick; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors; and Lawrence Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

lahood 2Also announced Wednesday, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been named co-chair of Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition of current and former elected officials who aim to raise awareness about the need to invest in the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

In making the news media rounds following his appointment, LaHood said that he supports a 10 cents per gallon increase in the federal gas tax and that the tax should be indexed to inflation.

“While there is widespread agreement that our nation’s aging roads, bridges, transit and aviation systems are woefully inadequate, Washington has failed to show leadership in making the tough decisions to increase revenue to fund these critical investments,” LaHood said. “With the Highway Trust Fund just months away from insolvency, it is time for action.”

Early in his tenure as transportation secretary, LaHood suggested taxes would have to be raised to shore up the trust fund – a position the White House immediately rejected and from which LaHood backed off.

The White House, however, again has rejected LaHood’s gas tax proposal, saying through a DOT spokesman that “the administration has not proposed and has no plans to propose an increase,” according to a news report.

Related: Legislation would increase fuel tax by 15 cents

LaHood joins fellow co-chairs former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. He replaces co-founder and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is stepping down to lead the Schwarzenegger Institute at USC.

The American Trucking Associations likewise called for action Wednesday, putting out its list of several policy steps to improve the nation’s economy and make highways safer. At the top of the ATA list: “Identify sustainable, efficient and reliable funding for our nation’s roads and bridges rather than seeking out the ‘easy money’ of tolls and privatization.”

Similarly, in his annual “State of American Business” address, Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue called for a multi-year reauthorization of the surface transportation program.



Donohue, who previously led ATA, emphasized the importance of a “safe, seamless and modern infrastructure” in growing the American economy.

President Obama is due for a major address of his own: This year’s State of the Union is scheduled for Jan. 28. Washington sources hint that a plan for modernizing the U.S. infrastructure will be a key initiative in the speech.

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones is Senior Editor, Trucking Media, and writes from his home in Little Rock, Ark. His Fleet Street blog features whatever strikes his fancy and has at least a little connection to trucks, or drivers, or highways. Or David Allan Coe. (Google "the perfect country and western song" if you're not nearly as old as Kevin is.) You can also keep up with Kevin by following his Twitter feed (@KevinJonesCCJ) or just drop him a line: kevin.jones@randallreilly.com.

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