Road funds bill given Senate OK
BY JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Thursday, March 18, 2010
4/26/10 at 12:49 PM
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Wednesday easily gave final legislative approval to a bill that restores millions of dollars in road funds to Oklahoma, but just hours later the House passed a separate measure that would take $22 million of that back from the state.
Passed by a vote of 68-29, the jobs bill sent by the Senate to the president for his signature extends federal funding for road projects to the end of the year, ending the need for a series of stopgap measures that had been costing Oklahoma $15 million per month.
It also contains a number of other provisions designed to create jobs, including payroll tax breaks to encourage businesses to hire and assistance to small firms.
Oklahoma's U.S. senators, Republicans Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, split their votes: Inhofe voted for the bill and Coburn opposed it.
As the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Inhofe is a key player on transportation issues.
"After months of delay, due to politics as usual in Washington, Congress finally passed an extension that will ensure states receive the money they are owed and provide the long-term certainty that is the lifeblood of state and local highway and bridge programs,'' he said.
Citing information from Oklahoma, Inhofe said the failure to pass a longer-term extension of the road funds has had a severe impact on the state.
"Oklahoma, like all states, has been on life support relying on federal funding measured in days rather than years, essentially killing their ability to let contracts as the country approaches the peak of the 2010 construction season,'' he said.
"Further troubling, congressional inaction came in the midst of a recession with construction unemployment approaching 30 percent, costing over 64,000 jobs in February alone.''
Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley called passage of the much-anticipated bill great news for the state.
Now, Ridley said, projects totaling millions of dollars can move forward, even though he still may have to change the date of the Oklahoma Transportation Commission's meeting to accept bids.
"We won't have to cancel those lettings,'' he said.
Asked for an example of a Tulsa project that now will move forward, Ridley named one to resurface about three miles on the Broken Arrow Expressway from Elm Place in Broken Arrow to the Wagoner County line for $3.1 million.
Opposition to the bill centered on spending.
"Despite our record levels of debt, it's clearly business as usual for the Democratic Congress when it comes to spending," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.
"This is the third week in a row that the Democratic leadership has brought a bill to the Senate floor that violates its own budget. If a projected deficit of $1.6 trillion this year isn't bad enough, now they have added another $3 billion to it, on top of the billions that have been spent over the past month alone.''
Gregg, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, called for an end to what he called a spending spree.
House action on the second measure came on a voice vote.
Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the bill would "correct'' the way road funds are distributed to states.
That correction is needed, Oberstar said, because under the Senate approach a number of states would get a windfall while about half would get nothing for certain programs.
A state-by-state breakdown provided by the House panel showed that Oklahoma would receive $22 million less under the House version.
Oberstar said the House approach now will be considered by the Senate under an agreement he reached recently with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Jim Myers (202) 484-1424