Mica and Duncan’s Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill Calls for 42% Cuts from SAFETEA-LU Levels

Today, House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Highway and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Tenn.) announced they would be introducing a $230-billion, six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill. This comes on the heels of a Senate proposal that called for $109 billion over two years — which would require legislators to increase or redirect tax revenue by $12 billion. President Obama, in contrast, proposed a completely non-serious level of surface transportation spending, $556 billion over six years, which would represent a 40 percent increase in annual funding relative to 2005’s five-year, $286.4-billion ($331.6 billion in 2011 dollars) SAFETEA-LU reauthorization. SAFETEA-LU expired in 2009, and transportation funding since then has been kept flowing by temporary extensions, the latest of which expires on September 30.

Mica and Duncan’s bill, which is not yet available online, sounds like a step in the right direction. Of course, until we can see the specific provisions and what exactly is being cut, it is difficult to evaluate it. But presumably, Mica and Duncan will have taken the scalpel to low-return-on-investment spending — namely, transit, high-speed rail, and “livability” programs. Compared to SAFETEA-LU, Mica and Duncan call for annual spending cuts of over 40 percent when adjusted for inflation (not 20 percent, as has been erroneously reported by arithmetic-challenged reporters — there is a difference between dividing by five and dividing by six, and there exists something called the Consumer Price Index). While I expect the bill will include some annoying pork-barrel spending (for which the highway bill is notorious), any cuts to federal transportation spending should be welcomed.

So far, the opponents include the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (or at least the Chamber’s transportation lobbyist quoted in The Wall Street Journal). Both of these rent-seeking interest groups are upset that the federal subsidy spigot will be turned down a bit. The horror! The horror!

ADDENDUM: Mica and Duncan’s surface transportation reauthorization proposal is now available online [PDF].