Mayors want Congress to 'lead' on highway bill

Mayors want Congress to 'lead' on highway bill
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The leaders of the U.S. Conference of Mayors said Monday that convincing Congress to pass a long-term extension of federal transportation funding is a top priority for the nation’s municipal leaders this summer.

The current transportation funding measure is scheduled to expire in July, and it has been a decade since Congress has passed an extension that last longer than two years. 

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (R), who is also vice-president of the Conference of Mayors, said during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show that is time for Congress to step up to the plate and pass a long-term infrastructure funding bill. 

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“First of all, we’re looking to Washington to take the lead on the transportation bill,” he said.

“We need a long-term solution to our infrastructure needs,” Cornett continued. “It’s a ticking time bomb in a lot of American cities and we’re hoping Congress will act and finally pass a long term bill.”  

Lawmakers are struggling to come up with a way to close a gap in transportation funding that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually. 

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion to close the gap long enough to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill, which is the length being sought by the Obama administration and transportation supporters. 

The federal gas tax, which is currently 18.4 cents-per-gallon, has been the traditional source of transportation funding since its inception in the 1930's. But the tax has not been increased since 1993, and improvements in auto fuel efficiency have sapped its purchasing power. 

Transportation advocates have pushed for a gas tax increase to pay for a long-term transportation bill, but Republican lawmakers have ruled out such a hike. 

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the transportation funding gap in recent years, resulting in temporary fixes such as a two-month patch that was approved by lawmakers last month. 

Cornett complained Monday that temporary extensions are preventing state and local governments from completing long-term infrastructure projects that are badly need.  

“It makes absolutely no sense,” he said. “All we’re doing is handing off a big bill of deferred maintenance to the next generation.” 

Cornett added that the Conference of Mayors will be active in the fight over transportation funding in Congress this summer. 

“The current two-month extension will wind up in July and you can bet mayors are going to be urging citizens in their communities to contact their elected leaders and see if we can’t get this bill passed,” he said. 

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D), who is president of the Conference of Mayors, said she agreed wholeheartedly with Cornett. 

“They need to understand that bridges aren’t pork and we shouldn’t wait until the next train tragedy to understand that it’s important to invest in our infrastructure,” she said of the Congressional debates about transportation funding that have taken place this year. 

“We can’t continue to play for second, and when you look at some of our roads, our bridges, our rail systems, we’re so outdone by other countries around the world,” Rawlings-Blake continued. “It’s time for us to really get moving on these things and look at it as a way to put people back to work and make the investments in our country that will make us competitive.”