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By Kirk Landers
Just when it seemed only a miracle of Biblical proportions could deliver onto the United States a federal transportation program, just when it seemed that our dithering body politic meets only to have big arguments over small ideas, just when we thought joblessness and infrastructure decay could only get worse not better . . . Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has saved us.
Oh ye of little faith! Could there have been any doubt?
Just a few days after Independence Day – how fitting, eh? – the good chairman served notice that America’s infrastructure has been saved by a brilliant reauthorization proposal he and his committee have introduced.
The press release makes you want to dance. It describes a bill that streamlines and reforms federal programs, expedites the project approval process, maximizes leveraging of limited resources, provides flexibility for states and ensures long-term funding stability for job-creating transportations programs.
Let the Red Sea part! Let the highway angels go forth in song like so many parakeets! America’s roads and bridges have been saved!
True, when you get to the fine print in the analysis of the bill, the actual funding levels of the “Mica Miracle” are a return to the Nineties. But at least it’s the 1990s. It could have been worse.
The important thing is, the states will now have certainty about federal funding, and they can get their money really fast. Indeed, we will be able to run highway programs out of petty cash.
What makes you really proud about this legislation is that it’s delivered with a straight face, as though something important had been soberly weighed and carefully analyzed, when in fact all the makers of Mica’s Miracle did was project fuel tax receipts for six years and kiss each other on the lips.
We taxpayers should not have to pay these stiffs to debate this bill. The only constructive purpose such a debate could offer is keeping this parliament of misfits from declaring war on another third-world country and paying for it with another tax cut.
But let me not give Congressional Republicans sole credit for this fiasco.
The tepid objection from the left came from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who says she favors a two-year plan with more money, with the difference in spending and fuel tax receipts coming from general revenues. Our general revenues, you may have heard, are already spoken for. And then some. This is like lobbing snowballs in hell.
Meanwhile, the Mineta Transportation Institute released the results of a national survey that indicates a large majority of Americans – 62 percent – would support a 10-cents-per-gallon fuel tax increase if revenues are specifically to improve road maintenance.
But advocating a fuel tax increase in today’s Congress would be a feckless act of courage, and what passes for courage in this assembly are carefully parsed statements indicating that perhaps the earth is round and perhaps the sun does not revolve around it.
Obviously, things in America and in the transportation industry have to get much, much worse before they can get better.