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Pass road bill quickly, Obama urges Congress

President Barack Obama said during his State of the Union address Tuesday night that America should take the money saved by tax reform to create jobs rebuilding roads, upgrading ports and unclogging commutes. (Associated Press: CHARLES DHARRAPAK)

The Trucker Staff

1/29/2014

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama urged Congress to move swiftly to pass a new transportation bill.

His comment about the bill came in the context of new jobs to help spark an improvement in the American economy further bolstered by tax reform.

“Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad,” the president said. “Let’s flip that equation.  Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home.”

He said America should take the money saved by tax reform to create jobs rebuilding roads, upgrading ports and unclogging commutes because “in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure.

“We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer,” he said. “But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.”

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Infrastructure and Transit Committee, has already held hearings about what should be in the bill, which would succeed MAP-21, the current funding bill that is set to expire Sept. 30.

Shuster has pledged to have a new transportation bill written, passed and in place by the time the current bill expires.

“I hope is to get reauthorization done on time,” Shuster said during his opening remarks Jan. 14 as the panel held its first hearing toward a new bill.

Should new legislation be in place by the time the current bill expires, it would mark vast departure from past history.

The legislation previous to MAP-21, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), was signed into law Aug. 10, 2005, and was set to expire Sept. 30, 2009. But Congress could never come to terms on successor legislation and was forced to extend SAFETEA-LU 10 times before finally passing MAP-21.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx praised Obama’s speech, calling it “a bold vision for increasing opportunity for all Americans.”

“I was especially glad to hear the President call on Congress to finish a much-needed transportation bill this summer,” he said, “and the proposal to fund that bill through corporate tax reform can and should be done on a bipartisan basis.”

Not everyone was encouraged by the president’s message, however. The American Trucking Associations in a reaction to the address said it was “disappointed” the president didn’t include more details as to how infrastructure would be funded.

 “While we appreciate President Obama making reference to the need for infrastructure investment, we remain disappointed in the continued lack of specificity when he discusses funding,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said.

“While it is critically important to the nation that Congress and the administration come together on a multiyear highway bill this year, we believe that until the administration puts forward a serious, user-based funding proposal we will risk going over the Highway Trust Fund 'fiscal cliff' in the near term and be woefully underfunded to meet the longer term needs of the nation.”

“It was an honor to attend the State of the Union, but the president’s proposal was sorely lacking in details and comes up short of what the nation needs to maintain our economic competitiveness,” said ATA Chairman Phil Byrd, president and CEO of Bulldog Hiway Express.

“Trucks use our roads and bridges to move more than 70 percent of the nation's freight and if do not address our infrastructure deficit the system will soon become a drag on our economic recovery and hinder our future growth.”

Brian McGuire, president and CEO of the Associated Equipment Distributors, said that “ ... proposing to pay for infrastructure with short-term, highly-speculative gains from a tax reform bill that may or may not happen this year does nothing to restore the long-term fiscal integrity of the Highway Trust Fund.

“New, transportation-dedicated user fees have to be part of the solution. By failing to wake Congress and the public up to that simple fact, the president missed an important opportunity to move the ball down the field.”

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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