Highway Bill to Be Introduced in House Next Month
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A $153.5 billion highway and rapid transit bill, to be financed in part by a 5-cent increase in fuel taxes, will be introduced in the House early next month, lawmakers said Thursday.
The five-year authorization bill, costing $30.5 billion more than the $123 billion already approved by the Senate, would give mass transit a new priority in federal transportation policy as well as giving states new flexibility to decide how transportation dollars are spent.
President Bush has criticized the Senate measure as too costly.
Rep. Norman T. Mineta, D-Calif., chairman of the House surface transportation subcommittee, told the National Road and Transportation Builders Association he will support a new gas tax only if the entire tax is dedicated to improving the national transportation system.
Half the 5-cent gas tax increase enacted last year is devoted to shaving the federal budget deficit.
″If a nickel for America is what is required at this point, let’s get that nickel,″ Mineta said.
″But I will not support any new tax unless and until every penny of it is guaranteed to be spent - not just collected, but spent - on our transportation network,″ he said. ″Anything less will be an outright fraud perpetrated against the American people.″
Meanwhile, the road builders’ association announced a lobbying campaign to boost the fuels tax by 10 cents.
The association said it will campaign for the increase, which it said would create 87,000 new jobs within a year and 940,000 jobs over the five-year life of the bill.
The House bill will contain a version of the National Highway System proposed by the Bush administration, which asked that a 150,000-mile network be designated.
The Senate called for an 184,000-mile system of principal U.S. highways, including the 43,000-mile Interstate system, to be financed with 17.5 percent of available highway money.
Mineta said the House version of the bill calls for a national system to include at least 130,000 miles and no more than 180,000 miles of Interstate, primary and strategic highways.
″In our legislation, we dedicate 49 percent of our core surface transportation program to designating, building and maintaining a National Highway System,″ Mineta said.
Under the House plan, states would have two years to submit proposals on which roads would be included in the new system.
But Mineta said state governors would be given the option of earmarking up to 25 percent of National Highway System money for urban or rural highway programs that fall outside that system.
″We also provide another 10 percent leeway if a state’s Interstate highways are maintained adequately,″ he said.
Mineta said the flexibility the bill provides ″will make mass transit a national priority for the first time.″
″Mass transit is an innovation that the House bill will boost by more than doubling the president’s proposed spending during the next five years to $34.5 billion,″ he said.