- THE MAGAZINE
As senators rose to praise their colleagues and committee members for a short-term bill to extend MAP 21 and fund the Highway Trust Fund, the underlying question remains unanswered: When will we have a long-term reauthorization of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act? I spell out the full name of the act to emphasize the irony.
In the current Congress, which many have labeled a “do nothing” Congress or, worse, an obstructionist Congress, perhaps the name of the act should be changed to Creeping Ahead in the 21st Century.
While trade and industry groups make nice and congratulate the Senate for moving the temporary patch forward and delicately remind us the House of Representatives must yet concur to relieve some of the pressure that will allow legislators to dig into the longer-term solution, the fact is that we still do not have a solution.
The House has every reason to move quickly to join in the Senate’s quick fix. In fact, it is the same reason – mid-term elections. Here’s how some of the senators described the impact of inaction on the interim funding. Imagine how the news would play in your home constituency if you were up for re-election.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), commented, “Our States are not going to enter into 3-year contracts when they know they only are going to get the funding for 9 months. . . . We know whatever happens, we are just doing a patch, and we are going to have to sit down together with good will and good ideas and solve this problem for the good of our country.”
Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), added, “Without this extension, the Federal highway trust fund will go bankrupt in a matter of weeks. What does this mean for my home State of Maryland? I am advised that MDOT will not meet its commitments. The Department would be unable to begin new projects. It would be forced to focus on safety and system preservation instead of putting shovels into the ground. Existing projects will slow down or stop. The State of Maryland would have to find bond or State revenues to pay existing contracts. Most importantly, over 9,000 construction jobs will be in jeopardy.”
It may calm voters’ concerns if they don’t see imminent layoffs as they head to the polls, but they will still see negative impacts, even from the short-term bill. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), spelled it out, “I had hoped the Senate would have responsibly agreed to a long-term plan to give State and local governments the certainty and stability they need to plan. Unfortunately, that was not the case. And while a short term fix avoids a transportation catastrophe this summer, it will also increase costs of transportation projects, limit the ability of State and local governments to plan infrastructure improvement, and ultimately result in the degradation of our country's infrastructure. Start-and-stop highway construction is even more wasteful than start-and-stop driving is on our roads. It is wasteful, it hurts our communities and our economy, and it is needless.”
It’s hard to praise the Legislature for an act of self preservation. When the temporary bill expires, we can’t expect much. If the power base remains the same, we have already seen what that means in terms of action. If the power base shifts, there could be new committee appointments. There will be plenty of excuses for why a new long-term highway bill isn’t progressing – isn’t moving ahead.
Let’s call for legislators to honor the promise of MAP-21 and Move Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.