"It will do two things to support long-term job growth: expand American energy production and use those revenues to repair and improve America's roads and bridges," said the speaker, who controls the first 10 House of Representatives bill numbers for his major legislative initiatives. "The bill will be fiscally responsible. The revenue will come from expanding American energy production -- not from higher taxes or from deficit spending. It will also include reforms that increase private-sector involvement in infrastructure. And there will be no earmarks."
Thursday's press conference revealed few new details about Boehner's plans for the infrastructure and energy bill, which he first discussed during a Sept. 15 address at the Economic Club of Washington. (see Sept. 30 AASHTO Journal story) The speaker posted a blog entry Nov. 3 stating his desire to move the combined highway and transit reauthorization as well as expanded domestic energy production legislation "through the House before the end of the year." (see Nov. 4 AASHTO Journal story)
In a blog posting later Thursday, the speaker's office outlined some of the bill's provisions. They include linking new American energy production to high-priority infrastructure projects; using the revenues from oil and gas drilling royalties to repair and improve America's roads and bridges; opening less than 3% of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for oil and natural gas development; removing federal requirements that currently force states to spend highway money on nonhighway activities; speeding up bureaucratic approvals and streamlining the project delivery process with reforms like concurrent review that will cut the project review and permitting process in half; eliminating and consolidating nearly 70 surface transportation programs that are either duplicative or not in the federal interest; increasing private-sector involvement in infrastructure; and strengthening safety programs and giving states more flexibility to develop innovative safety initiatives that save lives.
The speaker's office has not disclosed the bill's funding levels. Boehner's blog entry merely states: "The measure provides responsible infrastructure funding for the next five years, and links new energy revenue from production of American energy to the Highway Trust Fund."
Boehner's remarks and a video excerpt of the press conference are available at bit.ly/Speaker111711. He was joined by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Florida; House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Washington state; Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio; and Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pennsylvania.
Mica called the legislation being drafted by House Republicans a "win-win-win" for the nation.
"Americans will win by rebuilding our nation's infrastructure. Americans will win by putting millions to work. And Americans will win by having lower energy costs," he said. "It is my hope to mark up in the coming weeks a solid blueprint for the future of America's transportation."
Democrats Critical of Reauthorization Bill Laid Out by Republicans
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia and ranking minority member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure committee, held his own news conference Thursday afternoon to respond to the legislation outlined by Republican leaders. Rahall criticized the lack of specifics but praised the GOP for apparently abandoning previous plans to cut highway and transit spending by 34%. (see Sept. 9 AASHTO Journal story)
"House Republicans announced a plan short on details but long on expectations to reauthorize our surface transportation programs," he said in prepared remarks. "It is hard to take a 'plan' that contains few details seriously, but optimistically it appears the tides have turned and Republicans have come around from their previous attempts to slash the transportation budget by one third, which would have destroyed more than 600,000 American jobs in the first year alone."
Rahall expressed skepticism that new energy exploration will create enough money needed to fix and improve America's roads, bridges, and transit systems.
"Nothing in today's announcement identifies real, sustainable revenues needed to address our long-term surface transportation infrastructure investment needs," he said.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-California, released a statement Thursday afternoon labeling the House Republicans' transportation reauthorization proposal "controversial" by tying expanded drilling to bolstering the Highway Trust Fund with new revenue. The Senate EPW Committee last week approved a two-year surface transportation reauthorization bill that would maintain current highway and transit funding levels plus inflation, though the $12 billion in extra revenue needed to fund the measure has yet to be identified by the Senate Finance Committee. (see Nov. 10 AASHTO Journal story)
"We need to pay for the surface transportation bill in a way that is not contentious and does not threaten jobs," Boxer said. "The proposal by Republican leadership would mire a very popular surface transportation bill in controversy, and it would directly threaten many thousands of fishing, tourism, and recreation-related jobs. In addition, I am told by financial experts that this proposal would fall billions short."