Shuster: Lawmakers need 'educating' on transportation funding

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee said Friday that lawmakers in both parties needed to be “educated” on what needs to be included in a new road and transit funding bill.

Speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s annual conference, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said he needed the help of municipal leaders to convince lawmakers to make compromises that will be necessary to approve a new surface transportation bill.

“We need your help also in educating members of Congress,” Shuster said. “Because there are some members out there, and on both sides of the aisle there's education needed. On my side of the aisle, there's a reluctance to think … the federal government has a role or we shouldn't be spending money, or we shouldn't be spending more money. On the other side of the aisle, we've got, there's a reluctance to streamline things. To make sure we can get these projects … out there in the field and get them done quicker. Time is money.”

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The current surface transportation funding bill is scheduled to expire in September. Lawmakers have begun holding hearings about crafting a replace, but Shuster told the mayors on Friday that it was very early in the process.

“We've started,” the Pennsylvania lawmaker said. “Officially, we've had our first hearing on the surface transportation bill. But we started a few months ago on bringing in the stake holders. Anybody that's important that has a stake in improving the surface transportation, the highways, the by-ways, the transit systems in this country. We're starting to bring those stake holders in to help educate us as to, you know, what they see as some reforms that need to take place.”

Transportation officials in the Obama administration have said that trust fund that is used to pay for transportation projects will run out of money this year without a new round of congressional appropriations.

Lawmakers are grappling with a shortfall between the approximately $35 billion per year that is brought in by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax and the $54 billion per year that is currently being spent on transportation projects in the United States.

Shuster did not offer any ideas on new funding sources on Friday, but he said he was focusing for the time being on maximizing the potential of the transportation money that is already being collected.

“I'm going to need you, on both sides of the aisle, helping me to drive those reforms, so we can do more with the dollars we have, and also make sure we're educating those on my side that there's a fundamental role in the federal government being involved with -- with the state and the locals out there,” he said. 

Shuster also offered an update on separate negotiations between the House and Senate on an $8.2 billion bill to boost ports and waterways, saying the talks are still progressing despite the fact that they have been few public announcements.

“We're working through the [Water Resources Development Act] bill in the conference right now with Sen. [Barbara] Boxer [D-Calif.] and Sen. David Vitter [R-La.],” Shuster said. “It's been slow-going, but I feel confident that we'll move forward.”