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Letter to President Barrack Obama

Boxer and Other Committee Leaders Call on President to Drop Proposed Change in Transportation Funding

A bipartisan group of 14 House and Senate leaders are objecting to a provision contained in the Obama Administration's budget proposal that would significantly impact the way federal highway, transit, and airport improvement funds are distributed.

The Chairmen and Ranking Members of the key committees dealing with transportation funding signed a letter to President Obama opposing a change in the scoring of transportation funding that would treat contract authority as discretionary spending. The change would mean transportation funds held in dedicated trust funds would be handled like general revenue in the appropriations process. This could lead to the loss of dedicated funds for improving transportation systems and infrastructure.

The letter is signed by the 14 Chairmen and Ranking Minority Members of key transportation committees. A similar letter has been sent to the House and Senate Budget Committees:

The text of the letter to the President follows:

Dear Mr. President:

The President's Budget released on February 26, 2009, reflects a proposal by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to change how programs funded by contract authority are treated for budget scoring purposes. Currently, the highway, transit, and airport grant programs are funded by contract authority, a form of mandatory budget authority, derived from the Highway Trust Fund and the Airport and Airway Trust Fund ("Aviation Trust Fund"). OMB proposes to no longer score contract authority as budget authority, but rather to score the obligation limitations that are imposed on these programs in annual appropriations acts as discretionary budget authority.

We strongly oppose this proposed scorekeeping rule change and any other budget process reform that fails to recognize the unique nature of Trust-Funded programs. Such a rule would essentially convert the mandatory contract authority that currently funds our highway, transit, and airport grant programs to a simple authorization of appropriations for budget scoring purposes.

While proponents of such a scorekeeping rule change argue that it would increase Trust Fund transparency, it would in fact do the opposite, by further merging Trust-Funded programs with non-Trust-Funded programs in the budget process. If any budget process reforms are to be made, they should serve to increase the separation of Trust-Funded programs from non-Trust-Funded programs.

We have a longstanding commitment to ensuring that the user fees deposited into the Highway and Aviation Trust Funds are in fact used for their intended purposes - to rebuild our nation's infrastructure. These Trust Funds represent a contract between the Federal Government and the user. This contract specified that certain user fees would be levied on the users of our surface and aviation transportation systems. In return, the Federal Government pledged to use the receipts to build transportation infrastructure for the taxpayer's use.

Over the past decade, we achieved hard-fought reforms to ensure that this contract was upheld, even in the context of the unified budget. These battles were largely put to rest with the enactment of the funding guarantees established by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) in 1998 and the Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR 21) in 2000. However, the OMB proposal raises these issues once again.

We urge you to reconsider OMB's ill-advised proposal.

Sincerely,

Rep. James L. Oberstar (Minn.), Chairman, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure;

Rep. John L. Mica (Fla.), Ranking Member, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure;

Sen. Barbara Boxer (Cal.), Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works;

Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works;

Sen. John D. Rockefeller, IV (W. Va.), Chairman, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation;

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation;

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs;

Sen. Richard M. Shelby (Ala.), Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs;

Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, and Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure;

Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio), Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure;

Rep. Peter A. Defazio (Ore.), Chairman, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit;

Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (Tenn.), Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit;

Rep. Jerry F. Costello (Ill.), Chairman, Subcommittee on Aviation; and

Rep. Thomas E. Petri (Wis.), Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Aviation.


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