LaHood Urges Action on Job-Creating Transportation Bills

by Leslie Wollack

As Congress returns, facing transportation legislation deadlines, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood urged local officials to push for Congressional action on a transportation funding bill and "put Americans back to work." 

"The easiest put people to through transportation bills" currently before Congress, LaHood told city leaders at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting last week. 

LaHood reminded city officials that with the current aviation bill extension set to expire on January 31, Congress will have to reach an agreement on a program that has been extended 22 times already. We "need your help on the FAA bill," said LaHood. This is "no way to run the safest and best airline system in the world." 

The last extension came after a bitter battle between House Republicans and the Senate that shut many Federal Aviation Administration programs for two weeks until Secretary LaHood was able to broker an agreement. 

Key issues include insistence in the House on ending the NLC-supported Essential Air Services for rural communities that would not have commercial air service without the government funded subsidies and a labor dispute over the ability of airline workers to unionize. The Senate supported a short-term extension with no policy changes to keep the program running until Congress was able to reach consensus. 

The FAA bill provides $3.5 billion in funds for municipal airport infrastructure projects, a major economic development program for metropolitan areas.

Immediately following the aviation debate, Congress will need to renew the surface transportation bill, which expires on March 31. Referring to the national program that funds roads, bridges and public transportation programs as a "transportation jobs bill," LaHood urged local elected officials to push for Congress to act on a long-term bill. The current short-term extension will be the eighth since the $267 billion six-year program expired in September 2009. 

"Now is the time for Congress to pass long term bills that put people back to work rebuilding our roadways, railways, transit systems and airports," urged LaHood. "Now is the time for Congress to unleash the American workforce to build the safest, fastest, most efficient ways to move people and products in the 21st century."

With the House promising action on a six-year bill to extend transportation programs and Senate committee action on a two-year bill at higher spending levels, lawmakers will need to resolve issues of funding levels and where to find the money to fund the program, which depends on decreasing federal fuel tax revenues. 

NLC's priorities for the year include urging Congress to create jobs, grow the economy and invest in the nation's infrastructure, including transportation. 

NLC supports a long-term, comprehensive bill that provides local officials a strong role in decision making, establishes a national vision for transportation funding as key to local economies and provides regions with options for making transportation choices that fit their local needs and grows the national economy. 

Secretary LaHood also noted the Administration's commitment to transportation funding, particularly funding that supports local transportation investments, such as the three rounds of TIGER discretionary grants that have been distributed to a wide range of multi-modal transportation projects across the nation, funding for high speed rail and reduction of regulations for some local programs including street sign rules that have been relaxed by DOT.