Mayors Urge House to Pass Senate's Transportation Bill

Local leaders join the growing chorus of advocates pushing for immediate passage of a transit and highway bill.
by | March 23, 2012 AT 4:38 PM

Mayors across the country are urging the the U.S. House to approve a two-year transportation bill passed by the U.S. Senate, arguing that it is the best approach to creating jobs and improving the country’s infrastructure.

Their call came a day after Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) introduced a three-month extension to the current highway and transit bill -- set to expire at the end of the month -- in an effort to give his chamber more time to craft its own legislation.

"In a time of incredible unemployment and when the economy needs these jobs, it's political malpractice" for the House to pass another short-term extension, said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, during a conference call with reporters Friday.

The last long-term transportation bill expired nearly two-and-a-half years ago, and Congress has already extended it eight times since then. State and local officials argue that by passing a series of piecemeal extensions, rather than longer-term legislation, Congress has made it difficult for state and local leaders to plan multi-year projects since they don’t know how much federal funding to expect.

The Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion last week on a 74-22 vote. The House's transportation plan is not supported by Democrats, and Republican leaders in the House have even struggled to secure support within their own party. The extension could help them buy more time to tweak their bill.

Meanwhile, 188 mayors have signed a letter urging the House to pass the Senate bill. "It's time for Congress to step up to do their job," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said.

Villaraigosa said that the Senate surface transportation bill will save or create up to 1.8 million jobs, crucial as the U.S. economy slowly recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

If nothing is done by March 31, the federal government loses its authority to spend money from the Highway Trust fund, Fund, which is primarily funded by the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. That would result in a suspension of most federal transportation aid to states and cities.

Ashley Swearengin, the Republican mayor of Fresno, Calif., said localities are the "engines of the U.S. economy" and "now is the time to do these projects, because construction costs" are relatively low – a familiar refrain among transportation advocates.