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The NEXT Big Infrastructure Bill

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi Debt Plan is Only the Start

Glenn Reynolds asks a good question: WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR LAST BIG “INFRASTRUCTURE” BILL?

Everyone seems to have forgotten that just three years ago, in August 2005, Congress enacted the biggest federal public works program in American history, spending a massive $286.4 billion on the 2005 highway bill. At that time, President Bush and congressional leaders from both parties told us that the new highway bill was needed to fix our infrastructure problems.

That’s a good question, but it’s not one that any Democrat will answer today (obviously). And it’s not simply because Democrats are right now pushing for a massive new pork-barrel spending bill that’s supposed to address ‘critical infrastructure needs.’ It’s also because they’re getting ready for a massive new infrastructure spending bill before the ink is dry on the Obama-Reid-Pelosi debt package:

The reauthorization of federal surface transportation legislation will be the major issue of 2009, and ExpresswaysOnline.com readers will be pleased to hear that leaders are going to shoot for funding levels well in excess of the existing law, perhaps as high as a half-trillion dollars over six years.
That existing law, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy For Users (SAFETEA-LU), was enacted in August 2005…

The existing SAFETEA-LU authorized $286.5 billion in federal investment for the highway, public transportation and highway safety programs from fiscal years (FY) 2004-09, representing a nearly 39 percent increase from TEA-21’s $207 billion over six years. Now SAFETEA-LU expires Sept. 30, 2009, and new authorizing legislation must be enacted by then or else the federal surface transportation program will expire.

SAFETEA-LU’s predecessor, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, or TEA-21 — expired Sept. 30, 2003 after six years of phenomenal growth in federal highway spending. Over the duration of TEA-21, federal investment in highways and transit rose nearly 40 percent: highways were guaranteed at $171 billion and transit at $36 billion. Its successor bill, informally called TEA-3, had to be enacted by Oct. 1, 2003 to prevent serious disruption in roadbuilding funds…

Oberstar seeks 57 to 75 percent increase

…The bill’s funding level would be from $450 billion to $500 billion over six years, a 57 to 75 percent increase over SAFETEA-LU, but would introduce new elements into the surface transportation program…

The extraordinary size of his funding level would be justified in part by framing the bill as a creator of jobs during a recession that’s hit construction especially hard. Oberstar underscored this at a hearing Oct. 29…

But in addition to the gas tax, Oberstar said fees based on VMT and vehicle weight could be considered. Such fees also could be indexed to the cost of construction. Congestion pricing is an option which could help reduce traffic jams while generating fees, he said. He added ethanol needs to be subjected to a user fee with its exemption ended…

This piece is from November, 2008. Despite the huge new spending bill, this half-trillion reauthorization remains on the Congressional agenda — starting “late this Spring.” As Chairman Oberstar helpfully lays out, Congressional Democrats will be looking for massive new spending; they’ll try to portray it as a job creation measure, and it will be paid for by higher tolls, ethanol taxes, and a tax on driving itself.

If Congressional Democrats get their way, the taxpayers will also be called upon to pay for national health care, the auto bailout, as well as (it seems) a multi-trillion dollar TARP II.

All the more reason to insist that we see the whole bill before we proceed any further down this road.

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