Angry Space (D) Protests Idea of Highway Program Cuts
Freshman Congressman Zack Space (D-Dover) issued a stinging press release last Friday, stating that he is "[a]ngry that a landmark highway bill that has brought jobs and highway construction to Ohio may not be funded at the levels agreed upon two years ago," which would be "devastating for the Buckeye State." Space points out that he is the only Ohio Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He says that a proposal to cut costs by holding funding of the SAFETEA-LU Act of 2005 (it stands for the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users") to FY 2006 levels during FY 2007, instead of levels promised when the law was passed in 2005, could cost Ohio "up to $109,827,609 and 5,217 jobs."
The press release suggests the image of Space in single-handed combat with Congressional leadership (perhaps including a showdown with Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo), recently appointed to the Appropriations Committee), but it isn't really so dire. First, Republican Reps. Steve LaTourette (R-Painesville) and Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) are also on the transportation committee, so despite the party difference Space will presumably have allies in this battle to save Ohio. Second, it appears that the crisis may already have passed - the idea of restricting highway and mass transit funding unleashed such a storm of protest that it is apparently dead-on-arrival.
Nevertheless, it is an important issue, linked to the even more important budget deficit mess, and Space is correct to highlight it. The basic problem is that Congressional leaders are stuck with massive Republican deficits and no federal budget yet passed for FY 2007. With all that money going out by special appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan, there is tremendous pressure to hold the line on domestic spending somewhere. A report issued in December by the Democratic staff of the House's Committee on Appropriations stated that the 110th Congress encounters “a fiscal challenge of historic proportions” because of the “disastrous fiscal policies of the past several years” of Republican control.
The alert that Congress might pass a continuing spending resolution to hold highway and mass transit spending at FY 2006 levels came earlier this month from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). As a group, the states would get $3.4 billion less than Congress promised when it passed SAFETEA-LU in 2005. Jack Basso, chief operating officer at AASHTO, protested as well that it would be unfair to cut highway spending because it is linked to a “Highway Trust Fund” created in 1998 and paid for by the 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax on gasoline. It doesn't seem right to use that money to address the federal deficit in general.
There has already been a big political backlash against the proposed highway spending restriction, and the most recent newsletter from AASHTO (also issued last Friday) suggests that the Congressional appropriators have already backed away from the idea. "Facing the prospect of a possible $4 billion cut in the Fiscal Year 2007 funding levels Congress had guaranteed for federal-aid highway and transit programs, House and Senate transportation authorizers this week urged their colleagues to fully fund the programs at authorized levels," it said.
So, Rep. Space can presumably calm himself just a little, at least for now. However, the Budget Wars are just beginning. Space isn't the only member of Congress who will be losing his or her temper.