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Highway Users in Action, Issue 3, 2011

Upcoming Events

Save The Date – October 25th – “Transportation’s Piece In The Policy Puzzle”

Plan to come to Washington for our annual meeting and reception, which will be held on October 25th.  This year’s theme will focus on transportation’s place in the national debate about the federal government in an era of deficits and debt.  In one day, you will gain insight, information, and legislative predictions from the most sought after federal policy experts and political staffers.  Watch your e-mail for registration information, including members’ only/early-bird discounts, and hotel information.  Promote your organization’s leadership by supporting meeting events with a company or association sponsorship.  More details coming soon!

Legislation, Regulation & Policy

What Does the Debt Ceiling Have To Do With The Highway Trust Fund?

The compromise to raise the debt ceiling has an impact on many government programs but serves again as a reminder of the importance of a fiscally-sound Highway Trust Fund.

The importance of increasing revenue to the Highway Trust Fund has come up as an issue several times:  First, the Simpson-Bowles Commission recommended a 15-cent increase in the fuel tax for the fund; and later the “Gang of Six” proposal envisioned depositing more than $100 billion in the fund to keep it solvent for ten years.  Of all the spending in the federal budget, it was good to see that highways were being singled out as important and that a constituency for protecting the trust fund existed among budgeteers.

Unfortunately, the latest proposals and the final compromise did not solve the revenue problem facing the Highway Trust Fund.  With revenue needs taking a backseat to spending cuts, the compromise proposal (along with the latest individual Boehner and Reid proposals) actually will do more to destabilize the annual funding process.

The final compromise eliminated separate budget subcategories for highways and transit that have existed since 1998.  Within the larger transportation budget, these special budget categories “firewalled” highway and transit spending from the rest of the budget from 1998 to 2011.  For these years, a minimum level of multi-year funding for highways and transit was guaranteed to be appropriated as long as a multi-year authorization bill was in effect.

The dismantling of these firewalls began as a change to the House rules in early 2011, and is now completed by the debt-ceiling compromise through the removal of the separate budget categories.  But this change has the most impact on programs funded with “General Funds”  – including about 20% of the mass transit spending. General funds can be directed away from transportation to any other federal governmental program, since these are funds that are not housed within the Highway Trust Fund.

However, authorized funds from the Highway Trust Fund are less likely to be affected by the budget changes since they are liquidated through “contract authority”, which does not require an advance appropriation to be spent.  Nearly all highway funding is authorized out of the Highway Trust Fund, which cannot be used for general government expenses.

The debt ceiling/budget deal and the elimination of the budget caps for highways and transit will also lead to changes in the transportation appropriations bills for FY12.  The agreement will create another opportunity to fight for highway funding for fiscal year 2012.  We will immediately work with appropriators to maximize the amount of funding for highway and safety programs.

We will also urge a restoration of the separate highway and transit budget caps and the old House rules in the 113th Congress.  It’s important to remember that even now without the guarantees in-place, the highway user fees that are deposited into the Highway Trust Fund provide important stability and investment guidelines for highway programs.

There are frequent calls by our adversaries to abolish the Highway Trust Fund, to disperse highway user fee revenue to a wider range of government programs, and to divert fuel and truck taxes to pay for general government expenses.  The budgetary convulsions caused by the debt ceiling issue once again show how critical it is that we protect the Highway Trust Fund.  We consider the user fee and the trust fund to be of extreme importance to the motoring public and we will always fight to strengthen these worthy concepts.

Highway Users Honored to Testify at the Senate EPW Reauthorization Hearing

Highway Users’ President Greg Cohen testified at the EPW reauthorization hearing on July 21st.  The focus of the testimony was strong support for the bipartisan principles released by Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Cal) and Ranking Member Inhofe (R-Okla), specifically related to funding, core programs, streamlining, and planning mandates.  We took time to also focus on the importance of safety, freight, and National Highway System programs.  Other invited witnesses included the Mayor of Los Angeles, President of AASHTO, President of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the President of Vulcan Materials, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Transportation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Transportation Director.  To read our testimony click here.  To watch of the video of the hearing, click here (Cohen’s testimony begins at 92:20).  The HwyUsers is pleased to be part of the team of groups fighting to get the Senate EPW title moving.  The EPW Committee plans to markup their two-year version of the authorization bill, known as “MAP-21”, in early September.

T&I “Kitchen Cabinet” Access Has Its Privileges

The Highway Users is a member of the exclusive “kitchen cabinet” that advises the senior House Transportation Committee staff on strategy and policy.  This small group provides a regular in-person opportunity for closed-door, two-way communication and coordination.  We are pleased by the Committee’s efforts to develop a bill that mirrors many of the Highway Users’ policy recommendations.  Our press release, which we distributed in coordination with the roll-out of the Mica bill outline reflects our support for the Committee’s policy priorities, disappointment with the funding levels enforced by the House budget, and urges Congress to continue to move the process forward.  To read our press release, click here.  The House Transportation Committee plans to mark up their six-year version of the authorization bill in September.

Are You “Liking Us” on Facebook and Twitter?

You could be getting short and timely information from The Highway Users by “liking us” on Facebook and “following us” on Twitter.  By forwarding and commenting on our posts, you inform friends and colleagues in your social network and ours about the issues you care about.  Facebook is our primary networking platform.  We now have more than 16,000 highway users that are fans.  This level of support gets noticed on Capitol Hill.  Our fans are learning more about what’s going on in Washington and we are counting on their numbers to amplify our lobbying and media messages.  We urge you to involve your own members, employees, friends and family in our social network.  Join by visiting us at www.facebook.com/highwayusers.  We’re also using Twitter to offer live commentary on breaking events.  We tweeted to our network of followers as Chairman Mica rolled out his concept for the House highway bill.  Get the latest by following us at www.twitter.com/highwayusers.

Keeping Drunk Drivers Off the Road

The Highway Users has endorsed H.R. 2324 and S.510, the ROADS SAFE Act.  This legislation would fund promising research to passively deduct drunk drivers before they ever turn the ignition key.  We sent letters to commend Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Corker (R-Tenn.) and Representatives Capito (R-WVa), Shuler (D-N.C.), and Sarbanes (D-Md.) for co-sponsoring this bill.  Read our endorsement letter: H.R. 2324 | S.510

Highway Users Announces Support for TRIP Bonds

Last week, we endorsed bipartisan TRIP bond legislation introduced by Senators Wyden (D-Ore.), Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Begich (D-Alaska).  The bill would provide $1 billion to each State to leverage State issued infrastructure bonds.  This funding serves as a much needed supplement to traditional highway funding and other innovative financing tools.  We are also pleased that the bill has been modified from previous versions so that investment decisions are decided in State capitals and not in Washington. Read our press release here.

Leadership Meetings

The Highway Users has held multiple meetings with House leadership staff, think tanks, and the influential conservative Republican Study Committee.  After separate meetings with staff for Majority Leader Cantor and Majority Whip McCarthy, we were pleased by their support for moving the reauthorization bill on the House floor and whipping up support to get it through the House.  We scheduled the meetings because we were concerned by rumors that conservative leaders might not support the bill or allow it to come up to a vote.  Based on our meetings, we believe these rumors are unfounded and both Cantor and McCarthy strongly support Chairman Mica’s efforts.  Special thanks to Ryan Bowley with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) for arranging such high level meetings.

Finance Committee Meetings

In the Senate, we’ve been doing old-fashioned door-to-door lobbying of individual  Finance Committee members — encouraging them to support Chairman Baucus’, who is working to identify $12 billion in additional revenue to fully fund the two-year bipartisan highway bill, known as MAP-21.  The additional revenue is needed to avoid funding cuts in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.  Paying for the bill remains a difficult hurdle that must be overcome in order to move the Boxer/Inhofe title forward as planned in September.  We encourage all of our members to contact Finance Committee members and urge them to be part of the solution.  Find out if one of your Senators serves on the Finance Committee by clicking here.

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