Oberstar’s $450 to $500 Billion Transportation Bill

Rep. Oberstar (D-MN) and and Rep. Mica (R-FL) have unveiled their plans for a $450-$500 billion transportation bill. The Greenwire story at hits on the massive elephant in the room:

The $500 billion bill is significantly more than the current $286 billion authorization and the $236 billion that the Highway Trust Fund revenues can afford, according to the blueprint. Still, the draft does not lay out how Congress will find the cash to pay for the spending — something that has been a major concern among lawmakers, DOT officials and transportation trade groups.

The six-year plan is dramatically bigger than the previous transportation bill, but as the story notes, lawmakers don’t know how they are going to pay for it. Oberstar said he is planning on holding hearings in July to try to find revenue sources for all of this spending. The Obama administration has opposed any suggestion of raising the gas tax and the funding questions are critical.

In a short press conference, Oberstar and Mica called their plan “transformational” and a complete “overhaul” of the current transportation system. They also said they won’t be slowed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s call for an 18-month delay and vowed they will pass the bill this summer. I think that’s highly unlikely—and a good thing, too. A change of the magnitude envisioned by this draft bill is far too sweeping for a fast-track passage. It will require extensive national debate—not just on the funding level and sources but on the wide-reaching substantive changes Oberstar and Mica are proposing.

I’ll have more thoughts on this plan, once I’ve had time to review it in more detail.