Senator Ayotte Supports RTP Amendment, But Then
Votes Against Transportation Bill

By Larry Gomes
March 15, 2012
 

Editors Note:  This is a letter received on March 14, 2012 in response to a request sent in by me on February 13 asking Senator Ayotte to support the efforts of Minnesota Senator Klobucha to include an amendment to restore funding for the Recreational Trails Program in the upcoming Transportation Bill.

As you can see from the letter, Senator Ayotte did support the amendment but ultimately did not support the bill.  Luckily the bill passed and it now goes on to the House where it must be acted on by April 1st or many federal road construction projects could be halted.

The real solution is for Congress to raise gas taxes.  Compared to the rest of the western world, our gas taxes are much lower even though we have a much larger highway system.  The gas tax was last raised in 1993, and is not indexed to inflation. The federal gas tax has experienced a cumulative loss in purchasing power of 33 percent since 1993.  An increase of ten cents per gallon would bring in another $20 billion in badly needed road construction funds. 

Dear Mr. Gomes:

Thank you for contacting me regarding our nation's surface transportation policy and the Recreational Trails Program.  I appreciate hearing from you.

On November 7, 2011, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (S. 1813), commonly referred to as "MAP-21."  If enacted, S. 1813 would reauthorize surface transportation programs through fiscal year (FY) 2013, maintaining funding at current levels while reorganizing existing programs.

As you know, the Highway Trust Fund is the funding source for the Federal Highway Administration's Recreational Trails Program, which provides assistance to states to develop and maintain recreational trails for both non-motorized and motorized recreational trail vehicles.

Under current law, the Recreational Trails Program receives dedicated funding, representing a portion of the motor fuel excise tax collected from fuel used for snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles, and off-highway light trucks.  Half of the program's funding is distributed equally to the states, while the remainder is apportioned to eligible states by formula.  However, as originally drafted by the Environmental and Public Works Committee, S. 1813 would have consolidated the Recreational Trails Program, Safe Routes to School program, and Transportation Enhancements program into a $3.3 billion Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) fund, allowing for state departments of transportation to determine funding levels for each program within the CMAQ fund.

As you may be aware, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) filed Senate Amendment 1661 to MAP-21, which would have dedicated $85 million (the FY 2009 level) in Recreational Trails Program funding for FY 2012 and FY 2013.  This amendment was not considered by the Senate.  However, a manager's package containing technical corrections and modifications to MAP-21 included a provision to dedicate Recreational Trails Program funding at FY 2009 levels.  I supported this provision in the manager's package on March 13, 2012.

On March 14, 2012, the Senate passed S. 1813 by a vote of 74 to 22.  I opposed the bill because it failed to finance transportation projects in a fiscally responsible manner.  While there is no question about the importance of strengthening America's infrastructure, with a $15.5 trillion national debt, we can no longer afford transportation bills that perpetuate our broken infrastructure financing system that causes us to borrow more money.

As passed, S. 1813 uses an old Washington trick: it finances two years of infrastructure spending but pays for it over a span of 10 years.  Most of the repayment would not even start until after the bill's two-year authorization period expires.  This is the same sort of "buy now, pay later" scheme that in years past depleted the Highway Trust Fund, which is supposed to be sustainably financed through federal fuel taxes.  That is why I supported an amendment that would lower the overall FY 2013 federal spending cap to help pay for critical transportation projects during the bill's two-year authorization period.  Just like in a household budget, it is necessary to reduce spending in some places to pay for more pressing priorities.  Unfortunately, the amendment was blocked from moving forward after being challenged on procedural - not substantive - grounds.

Making matters worse, since the last surface transportation bill was approved in 2005, Congress has bailed out the Highway Trust Fund to the tune of $66 billion.  We need a highway bill that funds justifiable needs within our transportation system without raiding taxpayer dollars in the Treasury to replenish the Highway Trust Fund.  Under the Senate-passed S. 1813, the Highway Trust Fund will run dry in two years, and once again Congress will be forced to make up another trust fund shortfall with more deficit spending.  We can't keep kicking the can down the road, hoping future members of Congress will have the backbone to write a fiscally responsible transportation funding bill.

Astonishingly, S. 1813 also includes an earmark for one state, Nevada, to pocket a $45 million earmark that had been set aside several years ago for a futuristic MagLev high-speed rail project to transport tourists from Disneyland to Las Vegas.  Nevada now plans to use this earmark to widen the road to the Las Vegas Airport.  Apparently, in Washington, old habits die hard, even though Senate rules prohibit earmarks.

Deficits have consequences.  With four years of record trillion dollar-plus deficits, we cannot keep spending money we do not have.  Failure to fix business-as-usual spending legislation, such as the highway bill, will only keep putting off the tough decisions that inevitably must be made to avoid the kind of fiscal crisis that countries like Greece are facing.  Senators on both sides of the aisle want to improve our roads, highways, and bridges.  Many senators from both parties also want greater fiscal discipline.  With a more responsible transportation bill, we can do both.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me.  Please don't hesitate to be in touch again on matters that affect our state and nation.

Sincerely,
Kelly A. Ayotte
U. S. Senator

 

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