Former Transportation secretary weighs in on current funding fights

Mineta was in Washington on Monday to talk about fuel economy standards for cars.

Lawmakers recently passed short-term extensions of both the highway bill and the FAA funding that takes surface transportation spending through March at current levels, and aviation funding through the end of January.

Mineta said Monday that it was important those extensions are followed up by a six-year bill for highways and a similar long-term bill for the FAA.

"With these [continuing resolutions], states are going to be running out of money," he said. "States can't put out an RFP [request for proposals] for a project that costs $200 million that lasts three years when they're working on a CR [continuing resolution] that gives you money on an annual basis.

"At some point, bonding companies are going to say we're not bonding you … if the money isn't there up front," he said.

Mineta said that the $297 billion highway bill that was approved when he was Transportation secretary in 2003 did not include enough money to meet all the country's infrastructure needs, but even the House Republicans' proposal, which ranges between $230 billion and $280 billion, would be better than another short-term extension. 

"Regardless of what the amount is, the sooner we get a six-year bill, the better off states will be," he said.

The Democrat-controlled Senate has proposed a shorter two-year highway bill that spends more money per year, around $54 billion annually. The highway trust fund, which generates the money that pays for highway projects from taxes on gas purchases, currently only brings in about $35 billion.

Democrats have not identified where they could generate the extra money, but President Obama has ruled out an increase in the gas tax, saying that it would hurt people in a rough economic climate.