By Alan Wirzbicki
WASHINGTON - Senior members of Congress, promising a sweeping, eco-friendly oevrhaul of the nation's highways and mass transit systems, released their blueprint for transportation spending today -- setting up a clash with the White House, which has asked legislators to defer a new transportation bill for now.
The proposal would spend about $500 billion on roads, bridges, mass transit and high-speed rail over the next six years. To pay for the plan, lawmakers left the door open to raising the 18.3-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax, which has been unchanged since 1993.
"Our transportation system, once the envy of the world, is losing its battle against time, growth, weather, and wear," the senior Democrats and Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said in a statement accompanying the blueprint.
Today's announcement in the House clashed with the administration, which has asked legislators to extend current policy for 18 months rather than take on the laborious task of writing an entirely new bill. The committee's chairman, Jim Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota, and ranking member John Mica, Republican of Florida, both rejected that approach.
"We don't have time for 18 months. That puts a Damocles sword of uncertainty over the future of transportaion. It is unacceptable," Oberstar said in a press conference with Mica. "We are not in the business of delay. You've had enough of that in your transportation experience."
The Oberstar-Mica plan would direct $337 billion to highways, $100 billion for mass transit, and $50 billion for high-speed rail. It would also create a national infrastucture bank to finance large-scale projects of "national importance," and a new "office of livability" to ensure projects meet environmental goals.
The House proposals would also require the Department of Transportation to put more emphasis on reducing carbon emissions, accelerate its construction projects, and encourage links between different transportation modes.
If approved, the $50 billion for high-speed rail would mark a major departure from past bills, and add to the $8 billion included in the stimulus packaged passed in February.
Although the plan avoids explicitly calling for a higher gas tax, lawmakers warned that the current 18.3 cent-per-gallon levy would only generate $236 billion in revenues over the next six years, a total they warn would force signficant cutbacks.
"These shortfalls could result in a less of more than three million good, family-wage construction jobs," they said.
However, the Obama administration has expressed opposition to raising the gas tax during an economic recession.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.