With the ongoing action in Washington on the House highway bill, Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) President Dennis Slater offered the following comments:
“After 18 hours of debate, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved H.R. 7, its five-year highway bill, early on Friday, February 3, after much partisan bickering. Also today, the House Ways and Means Committee approved the funding to support H.R. 7. The Senate is also preparing its surface transportation bill for floor consideration possibly next week, a two-year bill championed by Senator Boxer.
“In this difficult budget environment, the House bill is notable for maintaining existing levels of funding, streamlining the project approval process and having no earmarks. There is no doubt that the ‘how-to-fund’ and other issues in both the House and Senate bills are very contentious and that shortfalls still exist. There is still a long way to go and we support both the House and Senate process moving forward.
“Number one, we need a House bill passed and a Senate bill passed before legislators in conference committee can debate and iron out the differences for a final bill. Congress was able to do this with the recently passed FAA aviation funding legislation, and this bipartisanship example is encouraging. We urge our legislators to work towards passage of a long-term bill by March 31, the deadline for current stopgap funding.
“Equipment sales have improved in recent months, driven by exports and rental customers updating their fleets. This growth is not guaranteed to be sustainable, especially with the fragile global economy. While there is increasing pent-up demand, contractors need longer-term market certainty before they make capital investments to meet the demand.
“Number two, neither bill examines the lack of strategies to meet America’s overall infrastructure investment needs. Our country’s global competiveness is at stake, and our legislators must also have the political will to focus on real solutions if we are to maintain economic prosperity.
“AEM and its members will be actively urging congressional leaders to expeditiously approve a highway bill.”
Discussing the pros and cons of this approach to moving the highway bill forward, Slater commented, “The good side is that it eliminates about 70 federal programs; it eliminates the mandate that states spend the money on non highway activities; it stream lines the money towards the highways; allows the states to set their own priorities; delegates more of the project approval towards the states; don’t have earmarks in this bill, which I think is important.”
“The real rub I think,” Slater continues, “is going to be removing some of the enhancements like bike paths and other non-specific to highway projects. Funding could be a problem. The proposal is to fund this bill with oil moneys and there might not be enough to fund it.”
Slater pointed out that another major sticking point could be the question of mass transit. It is proposed that mass transit be removed from the bill, and paid for out of the general funds. The Ways and Means Committee was discussing this issue.
Slater also made the point that the Senate two-year that was going to be proposed during the coming week. He stressed the importance of the two bills going to committee for a compromise resolution so that the issue of the highway bill could be settled before the March 31, 2012, deadline.