Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., has the unique opportunity to put his stamp on legislation affecting all transportation modes. Mica assumes the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the 112th Congress. The committee will tackle authorizing legislation for surface transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes projects for the Army Corps of Engineers.
Mica’s predecessor, Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., created a comprehensive six-year surface transportation bill in 2009, but it bogged down when neither house of Congress nor the White House could find a politically palatable way to pay the $500 billion cost over six years.
The question of money could put Mica on the horns of a dilemma. Republicans pledged no tax increases during last November’s elections, meaning there’s unlikely to be an increase in fuel taxes, something even many transport carriers support.
It will be up to Mica to find alternatives. Mica recently told Bloomberg Business Week he was considering a “reincarnation” of the Build America Bonds program, an infrastructure financing program for states in which the federal government subsidizes the interest cost. That program wasn’t renewed in the comprehensive tax bill President Obama signed on Dec. 17.
Members of the transportation community in Washington believe Mica will approach leadership of the transportation committee with the same energy of his predecessor. Oberstar told reporters he had established a close working relationship with Mica, and the transportation committee has earned a reputation for its bipartisan comity.
“I think you’re going to find a very vigorous effort by Chairman Mica and his committee to get a transportation bill done in 2011. I think they’re committed to doing that,” said Pete Ruane, president of the American Road and Transit Builders Association. “It’s going to be a Herculean effort. We’re not kidding ourselves, we know what we’re up against, and it’s going to be a real heavy lift.”
Contact R.G. Edmonson at email@example.com.