Compromise is necessary for transportation reauthorization

President Eisenhower understood the importance of a National Highway System after witnessing the ability of the German military to transport men, weapons and goods efficiently from various districts throughout the Third Reich. He made completion of a national interstate system one of his highest priorities and was able to launch its creation.

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I’ve had the good fortune to have been involved in some of the most important highway legislation during my tenure in Congress. Unfortunately, I believe as ISTEA, Tea-21 and SAFETEA-LU grew increasingly more complex, we strayed far beyond our original objectives.

The reality is that we cannot just spend like drunken sailors on shore leave. Our deficits have reached the point where our government is quickly becoming unsustainable. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that roughly around 27,000 jobs are created for every billion dollars spent on transportation projects. Can we afford to disregard the possibility of creating anywhere from 3-5 million jobs over the next five years?

There used to be a saying at my local Presbyterian church, “Please give until it hurts, and then give some more.” Let’s look at the ways we can all make sacrifices to create a lasting economic legacy in America. First off, President Obama and the Democrats need to drop their opposition to the Keystone Pipeline, along with oil and gas leases, too. Our nation has advanced steadily in environmental matters over the last 50 years. Anyone who visited New York or Washington in the 1970s can’t help but notice the difference between today’s cleaner transportation and the throat-clogging, black smoke-chugging cars and buses of yesteryear. And yes, we can thank the environmental community and the EPA for making this a reality. Allowing strategically placed oil and gas production isn’t going to send us back to the era of Oliver Twist.

Now for my Republican colleagues: We need to stop allowing so many tax loopholes and subsidies for thriving corporations. I am not advocating tax increases, but by starting the groundwork on tax reform, we should try to eliminate the corporate give-away game. There is no reason why General Electric should make $5.1 billion in income for 2010 and pay relatively little in taxes, as compared to income. Sure, corporate cronyism is very bipartisan, but let’s set an example here in the People’s House by practicing what we preach.

And to those who believe government is always the answer and to those who believe it should never be considered; you are both being disingenuous. Somewhere in between there is the perfect combination of public and private partnership that combines the best of both perspectives and utilizes productivity and profitability. We just have to think outside our wheelhouse.

Then there are my union friends. You served America well during those years when workers had little hope of a fair wage or decent work conditions. You still have an important role in the modern workplace, but let’s please give our road and bridge construction a boost by allowing modifications to Davis-Bacon. Every time I talk to anyone involved in highway construction, they roll their eyes at the additional costs involved through prevailing wage laws.  We need to reform this now.

And finally, to the American public, there’s no free lunch or highway bill. From the day Chairman Boxer released MAP-21 and Chairman Mica released H.R. 7, a steady stream of harsh criticism has drowned out the cries for help from the bridge and road construction community. We are all going to take a hit in order to make this work. Let’s focus on what we can do and not on what we can’t. 

We in Congress have had the ability to reach some important milestones in transportation since the Eisenhower years. We have also created some lousy policies. Let’s learn from our mistakes and pass a bill that will help revive our economy and move transportation to the next level. Now that I have angered everyone some more, I think I’ll go buy an old hound dog.

Rep. Coble (R-N.C.) is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.