By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA
President Barack Obama made a passing reference to transportation his Jan. 12 State of the Union address; one that raises more questions than it answers.
Here’s the relevant portion of the speech:
“Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.
“None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo. But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve — that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.”
The President has previously suggested using the proceeds from reforming the U.S. corporate tax codes to fund transportation improvements. Last night’s speech, however, implies a new linkage between transportation infrastructure investment and revenue from oil and coal production. The Administration has provided no details on this concept, but the President’s FY 2017 budget proposal is scheduled to be released Feb. 9. That document typically reflects new Administration funding initiatives.
Obama did not mention the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FACT) Act, which he signed in early December after Congress approved the measure with strong bipartisan support. The five-year surface transportation law is the longest to pass on Capitol Hill in a decade. A few members of Congressed grumbled the accomplishment didn’t receive more attention from Obama.
“We did a transportation bill,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) told the Capitol Hill news service Politico. “He could have said something about that.”
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) told the same publication “the point of the State of the Union is to talk about the health of the union, a vision for the future. … the details of implementing the transportation bill … is not the place for the State of the Union.”
The much shorter Republican response to the State of the Union, delivered by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, did not mention transportation or infrastructure investment.