Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Highway Money Fight Shifts to States

Andrew Satter/Roll Call
Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica has said he is committed to passing a full reauthorization of the nation’s surface transportation law, but he faces an uphill battle.

“The scrutiny that this bill will be under will make it very difficult to get anything by,” said Lovain, who represents the Washington state Department of Transportation and the Phoenix metro system. “I think most people have sort of resigned themselves to the rules.”

In banning earmarks, House Republicans have handed over authority to the administration when it comes to doling out money for particular projects.

“The president has recommended new start projects and Congress is going to say nothing about these things,” said John Cline, a lobbyist at the C2 Group. “The DOT would have 100 percent control over the money. It gives an incredible amount of power to the administration.”

Two of Cline’s clients, the Los Angeles and Houston public transit systems, have historically relied on earmarks. Now, he and other lobbyists are devoting their time to agency officials instead of lawmakers.

Much of that planning, however, may be premature. House and Senate committees have said they expect to produce a draft of the reauthorization by June, but lobbyists, trade association officials and other sources familiar with committee activity said they don’t expect the bills to pass until after the 2012 elections.

Congress has passed short-term extensions of the highway bill seven times since it expired in 2009. Now, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) says he wants to pass a complete reauthorization with less money and no earmarks to sweeten the package.

Between the political pressure to make budget cuts wherever possible and Republican intolerance for increased taxes, coming up with a revenue stream for a more robust bill seems next to impossible.

“Every time the process of those bills has been lubricated by two things — growing the program and earmarks,” Lovain said. “Lawmakers used to be able to say, ‘Look, I got funding to straighten out Dead Man’s Curve.’”

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