Mica Says No House Transportation Bill Until January

U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) said this week the panel’s long-awaited transportation authorization bill won’t surface until January but vowed that the Congress will act on a multi-year bill before the latest extension of SAFETEA-LU expires at the end of March. Mica made the announcement to transportation policy insiders attending a forum Wednesday in Washington, DC hosted by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, which was webcast live on the Miller Center website. Here’s some of what he told the group.

Timing for House Bill

Mica: “I’m a little sad to announce that—and I was hoping to drop the transportation bill on Friday or Monday--but I got word just before I left (the Capitol today) … that the leadership has decided at this point to put off the transportation bill until January for several reasons. First, because of the failure of the supercommittee (there were) some issues left unaddressed. Notably there’s a tax extension provision. There’s a doctors’ fix that we do every year. There’s appropriations—small things like funding the rest of government that’s so essential.”

“(House Speaker John) Boehner had announced before we left for Thanksgiving we would try to do it before the end of the year. Given again the constraints of time and the requirement that everybody fully participate in the discussion—we adhere to a three-day advance getting things out so people can see it rather than having it air-dropped at the last minute and everyone being surprised … We’re operating under a different set of rules and they want to comply with that set of rules. So that’s the reason for the slight delay. We do have until March 31st and I think March 31st is a real and hard deadline.”

“We will go into very hard electioneering next year so I’m hoping to get the bill done. I can tell you this: we will pass it through committee. We will pass it through the House of Representatives.”

Potential Economic Impact of Transportation Authorization

Mica: “I quite frankly don’t believe there are any bills before Congress that could have a greater immediate impact than passing a longer term transportation bill funded as fully and responsibly as we can …”

“We do believe that the transportation measure is one of the cornerstones to our job act. We’ve got regulatory reform but I think our leadership and our membership is committed to making transportation legislation—and passing it—but having it as a cornerstone to getting people working and to doing the most we can to move the economy forward.”

“I’m disappointed again given the economic situation that we couldn’t move forward faster but we will get it done. The biggest hang-up has been the financing …”

Political Challenges Facing Authorization

Mica: “You’ve got to remember again the makeup of the House. You have 87 Republicans that were elected to come here to reduce spending, to reduce the deficit and not make government bigger but hopefully to make it smarter and more effective. So you’ve got these new folks—the new kids on the block as I call them—who came here with that. I told folks last year I did everything I could to try to get attention and to try to help (former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman James Oberstar) salvage what we were trying to do. A gas tax increase wasn’t going to happen last year. It sure as hell isn’t going to happen this year.”

Why a Multi-Year Bill is Better than the Senate’s Two-Year Bill

Mica: “I’ve been to small communities the past couple of days, I’ve been to New York City, I’ve been to Chicago. All across the country looking at (transportation) projects. Almost all the projects rely on the federal government making a longer commitment—more than 24 months. If you like a 24-month bill, you just had a sampling of it the last two years of what it will do. It will give you small projects. It will give you temporary employment. It will not give you the jobs and the opportunities that we’re looking for or build the infrastructure that we all I think envision…”

House Bill Emphasizes Multi-Modality, Consolidation of Programs

Mica: “My commitment on the bill is that it will be as multi-modal (as possible) … I’m committed to highways and bridges and all of that. But you’ve got to have components like rail. You’ve got to have components like ports. All of these components are very important to that.”

“There’s room for consolidation. We’ve grown from a half-a-dozen core programs to 130-something in that range. I’m not going to eliminate a whole lot of programs. I want to eliminate things that are duplicative. We’re going to make most activities eligible. I’m not going to do away with bike paths as we know it or rails-to-trails which I love and use. I’m not going to do away with all the enhancements that people have their shorts all bound up about. But there will plenty of opportunities without the Washington overhead or Washington approval if we devolve more authority to the states.”

TIFIA and State Infrastructure Banks vs. National Infrastructure Bank

Mica: “I was pleased that labor and businesses agree on TIFIA. Why do I need to create a national infrastructure bank when I have a TIFIA program? TIFIA (the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) has loans and loan guarantees. It exists. Why don’t we just alter it, expand its capability and go to town. I don’t need to employ people a year and a half from now; I need to employ them tomorrow. So I’ve got some mechanisms in place; I’ve got some ingredients in place. Why do I need a national infrastructure bank when I have 33 states that have infrastructure banks and mechanisms in place? … I don’t need a year for the appointments and then another (however) long to employ people and $270 million to run it and have them come on bended knees to Washington to ask for (money) … What the states don’t have—they have the infrastructure banks—they don’t have the financial capacity. So we can devolve some of that to some existing institutions that can act quickly to get people to work.”

Why Reforming the Process is More Important Right Now than Investing More in Transportation

Mica: “I can throw all the money you want at it. We could do another stimulus thing. But don’t they learn around here? We had $63 billion out of $787 billion (in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) for infrastructure. That made even President Obama understand that “shovel-ready” is a joke in the current process and environment. You can’t process these projects because you’ve set up all these barriers. But we can speed up that process. We don’t have to bulldoze over environmental protections or other things. We can shorten the time for approvals. Why should things go to Washington and take forever and ever amen? Why shouldn’t we be able to have approvals made concurrently rather than consecutively, waiting seven or eight years to do this long process for the average project? So I’ve got to speed up and streamline getting money out. As of October 1st—just a few weeks ago—35 percent of the $63 billion of stimulus money two and a half years later was still in Washington. So we can and we must speed that process up to get the money out to get projects done.”

“This country has the greatest minds and innovative people. The only thing standing in its way sometimes is government or the barriers that we have created to not allow our projects to go forward in a responsible manner. We can put people to work. We can pass this bill.”

Miller Center Transportation Policy Summit

The event at which Mica spoke this week also included a roundtable with five former U.S. Secretaries of Transportation as well as panels on where things stand in developing a new approach to transportation, the potential economic growth impact of infrastructure investment and what kind of messaging is successful in shaping public opinion with regards to transportation spending. I’ll have more on the summit in a future blog post.

More on Timing for the House Bill

With Mica’s announcement about the House bill being pushed back, the speculation has begun on the date it might actually surface. Larry Ehl of the Transportation Issues Daily blog says although the earliest it could be introduced is the week of January 16, the House is in session for only two days that week. The week of the 23rd, they’re in session for just three days. Ehl writes that it’s more likely the bill won’t come out until early to mid February. Suddenly that end of March deadline on the latest SAFETEA-LU extension doesn’t seem quite so far off as it once did…

Tanya Snyder of Streetsblog DC has more on the House schedule here.

The Washington Post’s Ashley Halsey III, who was on another panel at the Miller Center event, has more about the behind the scenes politics concerning Mica’s authorization bill as well as an update on the prospects for agreement on legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. You can find his article here.

Mica’s Congressional Seat in Danger?

There is word this week that under a new Florida redistricting proposal, Mica could be drawn out of his current 7th District seat, which runs from just north of Orlando to just south of Jacksonville. The Transportation Nation blog has the story.

House Democrats Introduce New “Buy America” Jobs Bill

Meanwhile on the other side of the aisle, the two top ranking Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee announced legislation this week that would strengthen “Buy America” requirements by requiring that all materials and manufactured goods used to construct federally funded transportation and infrastructure projects be produced domestically. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) called on Republican leaders to incorporate their Invest in America Jobs Act of 2011 (HR 3533) into the transportation authorization bill. The bill can be read here. Streetsblog DC, Land Line Magazine, and the AASHTO Journal all have more.

Senate Banking Expected to Take Up Transit Portion of Transportation Bill

And on the other side of the Capitol… Senate sources tell Politico the Senate Banking Committee is still likely to mark up the transit portion of the proposed bi-partisan two-year surface transportation bill sometime in the next couple of weeks. Congress is trying to adjourn for the holidays by December 16th.