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Time Runs Out For Transport Lobbyists
Friday, 18 September 2009 00:00

On Oct. 1, authorization for the current U.S. transportation bill is set to expire. A $500 billion replacement bill sponsored by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is now the focus of intense lobbying by special interest groups.

The current $286 billion bill was signed into law by President Bush in August 2005 after two years of debate that produced 6,371 earmarks including a notorious $223 million “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska.

According to the Washington DC-based Center for Public Integrity (CPI), to get their own projects included in the new bill, 1,800 special interests employing 2,100 lobbyists have spent $45 million on lawmakers this year—equivalent to the lobbying cost of climate change.

The CPI has identified lobbyists represent 475 U.S. cities and 160 counties in 44 states; more than 55 local development authorities; 65 private real estate development companies; 95 transit agencies, 25 metro and regional planning organizations; 75 organizations from highway builders and car manufacturers to interstate coalitions and trucking interests; 65 construction and engineering groups; 45 rail organizations, 50 shipping companies and port managers; and 140 universities.

With $500 billion to be allocated, the CPI says the process has attracted many well-connected lobbyists including 24 individuals with experience as either House Transportation Committee staff or as personal staff to Transportation Committee members; a dozen individuals with experience on one of the three Senate committees working on transportation policy or as personal staff to committee members; 36 former House and Senate staffers with experience working on appropriations committees or as aides for members who served on those committees; former presidential appointees to various positions in the Department of Transportation, including former Secretary James Burnley; and 20 former members of Congress, including one-time House Transportation Committee members Robert Borski, William Lipinski, and Bill Brewster.

But despite the lobbying frenzy, the CPI says the real problem is money.

The U.S. government pays for national transportation via the Highway Trust Fund, which raises 90 percent of its revenue from a federal gas tax. The levy has not been adjusted since 1993 and in Sept. 2008 the fund ran out of cash. Since then, Congress has transferred $15 billion from the Treasury to make up the shortfall. Mean while the Congressional Budget Office says it will take another $100 billion between 2010 and 2018 just to cover projected expenses.

With Congress facing a $trillion deficit and less than two weeks to go before another run to the Treasury, the CPI says nobody is sure where the money for the new bill is going to come from.

Air Cargo World, 9/18/2009