Union: GOP highway bill plan 'bad transportation policy'

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A union for public transit workers is criticizing a House Republican plan to tie cut backs in mail delivery to transportation funding as "bad transportation policy."

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) International President Larry Hanley said Monday in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that he was staunchly opposed to the GOP plan to take approximately $15 billion they say can be saved by eliminating Saturday letter deliveries to pay for transportation projects. 

"On behalf of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the largest labor organization representing public transit workers in the United States, I am writing to express our strong opposition to the reported effort to shore up the Highway Trust Fund by making several changes to the United States Postal Service, including ending the six-day delivery mandate," Hanley wrote.

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"Like the misguided effort to cut public transportation out of the Trust Fund two years ago, this idea is simply bad transportation policy that is certain to derail the House version of the surface transportation bill right from the start," he continued.

Lawmakers are trying to prevent a bankruptcy in the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund that is projected to occur as early as August without congressional action.

The traditional funding source for transportation is money that is collected by the federal gas tax, which is currently priced at 18.4 cents-per-gallon. The gas tax only brings in about $34 billion per year however, while the federal government currently spends approximately $50 billion per year on transportation projects.

Republican leaders in the House have said their plan to take money from eliminating Saturday letter deliveries would provide enough funding to close the shortfall for at least one year.

Transportation and postal advocates have both slammed the Republican proposal as a short-sighted plan that would not solve the funding problems that are facing either area.

"This is no time for gimmicks," Hanley said in his letter to Boehner.

"Let’s fill the gap in the Highway Trust Fund now with General Funds and then pass a fully funded, six-year surface transportation bill by advancing a revenue stream that makes sense," Hanley continued.  

Democrats in the Senate have similarly objected to the House's plan. The primary author of the Senate's proposal for a new $265 billion transportation bill, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), called the House plan "unworkable" when it was first announced.

Boxer has argued for a more permanent solution to the transportation funding problems, although the upper chamber has not yet identified how it intends to pay for its version of the bill beyond the money that is collected from the gas tax.

Hanley said his union is supporting a bill that has been introduced by House Democrats to nearly double the gas tax to 33 cents-per-gallon gradually.

"ATU supports H.R. 3636, the Update, Promote, and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials Act of 2013, which would phase in a 15 cent/gallon tax increase over the next three years on gasoline and diesel," he wrote. "The gas tax, which has not been raised since 1992, is an admittedly flawed mechanism to generate transportation revenues. However, it remains the only tried and tested way to raise enough money to keep our highway and transit systems moving."

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