OUR OPINION: Highway bill would boost stability

By NEMS Daily Journal

A two-year, $109 billion highway bill that passed the U.S. Senate this weeks buoys the hope of interest groups like roadbuilders and the travel industry that the House can be prodded by the senators’ action to pass its own bill before a March 31 expiration of a continuing resolution funding transportation.
Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republicans, both voted in a bipartisan majority for the two-year authorization for $109 billion.
The bill has no earmarks, the preferred method for decades by both Republicans and Democrats to steer funding for highway and other infrastructure to particular states, but Cochran said in an official statement he is confident key needs in Mississippi can be met.
Highway construction and auto safety would get a boost in a two-year $109 billion federal highway bill that passed 74-22.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in published reports that the transportation bill “is the real jobs bill,” predicting it will create or sustain nearly 3 million jobs across the nation.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the House is likely to take up a plan that’s similar to the Senate bill.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney praised the bill’s passage.
Mississippi could derive major benefits from the part of the bill called the RESTORE Act amendment, supported by Wicker and Cochran. It would establish a restoration fund for Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, with 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines paid by BP from damage caused in the nearly calamitous 2010 oil spill.
Jackie Duckworth, a Mississippi Department of Transportation funding expert, said a two-year bill is better than a six-month continuing resolution but not as good as a longer-term bill – six years or more to coincide with the full cycle of construction..
“You have to understand, these bills are where we get our money,” he commented.
It is reasonable to hope the House acts soon and favorably on a strongly similar bill so that the two-year program can be hashed out and sent to the president for signing.
The 18.4-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline and the 24.4-cent-a-gallon tax on diesel would not change under the Senate bill.
In addition, the bill would let Washington reward states with extra safety money if state lawmakers required graduated licenses for teenage drivers, permit police to pull over and ticket drivers for seat-belt and booster-seat violations, and require that convicted drunk drivers use ignition-lock devices, news services reported.