Obama rides transport funding ‘hobby horse’

Obama rides transport funding ‘hobby horse’
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President Obama said Friday in his year-end press conference that he believes Congress can reach a bipartisan agreement on a long-term transportation funding bill next year, despite years of temporary extensions emanating from Washington. 

“I've been on this hobby horse now for six years ... we've got a lot of infrastructure we got to rebuild in this country if we're going to be competitive,” he said. 

“Roads, bridges, ports, airports, electrical grids, water systems, sewage systems,” he continued. “We are way behind.” 

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The current transportation funding measure is a nearly $11 billion bill that was passed in the summer to carry federal road and transit funding only through May 2015. 

Obama has sent Congress a proposal for a four-year, $302 billion transportation bill that would be paid for largely with revenue from corporate tax reform proposals that have stalled on Capitol Hill, but lawmakers have ignored the president’s infrastructure measure. 

Congress had a chance to pass a multi-year transportation funding package earlier this year, but lawmakers could not agree on a way to pay for more than a couple of months’ worth of projects, resulting in a temporary extension that provided funding for only eight months. 

Obama said Friday that he was hopeful transportation funding would be an area of bipartisan agreement when the GOP takes over both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006 in January, despite the prior inaction. 

“Historically, obviously, infrastructure has not been a Democratic or a Republican issue,” he said. “And I'd like to see if we can return to that tradition.” 

The nearly $11 billion temporary transportation funding measure was used to prevent a bankruptcy in the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund, but the pot of money that pays for federal infrastructure projects is scheduled to run dry again in May. 

The traditional funding source for transportation projects has been revenue that is collected by the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The gas tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and it is struggling mightily now to keep pace with rising construction costs as cars become more fuel efficient. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, which infrastructure advocates say is barely enough to maintain the current state of U.S. roads and bridges. The gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion per year at its current rate, however, resulting in a $16 billion annual gap that lawmakers have struggled to fill.