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Wall Street Journal: GOP Jeopardizes Roads and Transit Funding

By Josh Feit January 5, 2011

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce may be regretting its decision to spend big supporting GOP candidates in 2010. On the first day of the new congress in D.C., house Republicans, sticking to an "everything's on the table" philosophy, announced today that they want to reverse longstanding policy of guaranteeing road and transit money to the states.

The Wall Street Journal reports:
At stake is about $41 billion a year the federal government provides to states for repairs to roads and subway systems. For most states, the money constitutes almost half of their budgets for highway capital projects.

House Republican leaders plan to bring to a vote as early as Wednesday that would end a congressional policy that since the late 1990s has effectively guaranteed federal highway spending would rise each year.

The policy has protected spending authorized by highway bills from being cut by congressional appropriators during budget time. Other types of domestic spending are often funded at less than the authorized level.

To comply with the old policy, Congress has used $35 billion in general tax revenue money since 2008 to plug the gap left because federal gas-tax revenue have fallen below forecasts, mainly because Americans drove fewer miles during the recession, and cars became more fuel efficient.

"This proposal simply ensures we won't be required to spend more on transportation projects than we take in," said Brendan Buck, spokesman for the Republican transition team. Ron Utt of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said the policy change would treat transportation spending like other domestic programs.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA, 2), a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, doesn't show up in the WSJ article, but fired off a press release condemning the GOP.
“Washington state needs this transportation funding to repair our local roads and support good jobs for folks in the region. Congressional Republicans are playing political games with the livelihood of the men and women who work hard to improve the highways and infrastructure in Northwest Washington.”

According to Larsen's release, Washington state could lose $121.7 million in transportation funding. The money is not designated to specific projects, but transportation infrastructure projects like the South Park Bridge, which got $34 million from the feds late last year, are the sorts of things federal money can support.

Here's the deal: The Republican rules package would eliminate the federal requirement that appropriations funding for highways and transit be identical to levels set in the authorizing project funding legislation.

The GOP would rather have the appropriation levels be set based on transportation revenues—gas taxes—instead of the locked-in levels. With gas revenues faltering, the current transportation account is about $15 billion shy of the funding allocations.

We have emails in to Washington State GOP Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA, 8 ) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA, 5) to see if they support the new appraoch.
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