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Earl B.
Democrat OR 3

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  • Providing for Consideration of Conference Report on H.R. 22, Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015

    by Representative Earl Blumenauer

    Posted on 2015-12-03

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    BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, I am inclined to yield 5 more minutes to my friend from Wisconsin because I strongly, strongly agree with the framework that he advanced.

    I have come to this floor repeatedly with a simple suggestion that we index the gas tax and move forward with paying for our future. It is, I think, an interesting question if we had followed regular order dealing with transportation funding, if we would have had a hearing that would have had the President of the AFL-CIO, had the President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, truckers, AAA, legislators from seven red Republican States that have raised the gas tax and the sky didn't fall come forward and talk to Congress about what would make a difference.

    Because they have all agreed that we shouldn't be borrowing from the future, that we should right-size this, not playing budget games, and be able to have the most effective way to create millions of family wage jobs and show that we can do our job the same way that was led by President Eisenhower and President Reagan.

    [[Page H8979]] That said, I think this bill does represent an important step forward because there was some regular order followed by the committee. I take my hat off to Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio, who worked their way through a variety of contentious issues and brought forward a piece of legislation that provides modest, but important, increases in our funding programs.

    It retains the basic structure. It has some improvements streamlining the process. It protects transit, safety, pedestrian, cycling programs, and a higher speed passenger rail. It speaks to a multiplicity of interests that Americans care deeply about.

    It has embedded in it areas of innovation to encourage us to use technology to be able to improve the transportation system. I think there is no question that this is a new frontier, that 10 years from now we will not recognize much of what happens in the transportation space.

    We will be able to coax more value out of our transportation system. We will be able to stretch dollars and unleash a great deal of innovation and activity. This legislation encourages that.

    Part of the innovation is that, while I think we should index and raise the gas tax to actually adequately fund a robust bill, I think it is important for us to get rid of the gas tax and replace it with something that is sustainable over time.

    And, again, this legislation has some provisions that will enable States to experiment with pilot projects like we have had in Oregon for the last 10 years for a fee that is based on road use, that would be sustainable, that would be fair, that actually could be adjusted in ways to help rural and small-town America and be able to give greater access to transportation in a more efficient fashion.

    Mr. Speaker, I am hopeful that we will use the 5 years of stability, ending the saga of 35 short-term extensions because we wouldn't face the funding question.

    I am hopeful that we will use these 5 years to be able to refine some of the improvements that are in it and to be able to directly face the question of whether or not we are going to pay for our transportation future, that we won't use gimmicks, that we will use the tried-and-true user fee and replace the gas tax with something that is better and more sustainable.

    It is time to start building that foundation now. It is not just more money, but it is transforming how the transportation systems work. I think this bill gives us leverage to move forward on that. Rebuilding and renewing America is a nonpartisan issue. It is an issue that can actually bring us together while we make our communities more livable, our families safer, healthier, and more economically secure.

    We can put millions of Americans to work at family wage jobs that will improve the quality of life for communities from coast to coast. This bill is a step in that direction. But it is only going to work if we accept our responsibilities to properly fund it, to face the future, and accept responsibility to do our job right. I hope we will.

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