Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, a senior member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and a member of the bi-partisan, bi-cameral conference committee tasked with crafting a conference report to accompany H.R. 4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, released the following statement after House passage of the conference report.
"I am pleased that the House has passed a conference report that provides several years of certainty regarding federal funding for highways and transit. This certainty is far preferable to the deep cuts in highway and transit expenditures that would have occurred had the Congress failed to reauthorize our transportation programs and, for this reason, I voted in favor of this conference report.
"However, overall highway funding provided by this bill is far below the level of expenditures in fiscal year 2011 at a time when we should be increasing funding to repair existing infrastructure and build the new roads and transit systems we need to ensure our nation's mobility."
Under this conference report, Maryland will likely receive approximately $580 million in federal aid highway funding in fiscal year 2013 and just over $585 million in such funding in fiscal year 2014. Preliminary estimates indicated the state will receive modest increases in transit funding above current funding levels in both fiscal years, likely receiving approximately $200 million in funding for fiscal year 2014.
"Critically, this bill reauthorizes the highway and transit disadvantaged business enterprise programs. My colleagues and I considered the extensive evidence provided to us in testimony in the Transportation Committee and in detailed disparity studies documenting ongoing discrimination in transportation contracting and concluded there is a compelling national interest in reauthorizing these programs. This hard-fought victory will ensure these programs remain in place to help minority- and women-owned businesses compete for the transportation contracts that will be issued over the next two years.
"I am, however, deeply concerned that the conference report includes a provision that would reduce by one-third the percent of food aid shipped on U.S. vessels. As the former chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, I have closely examined the state of our U.S. merchant marine. There are fewer than 100 U.S.-flagged vessels in the foreign trade now, and they carry less than two percent of U.S. cargoes. Without our cargo preference programs, we would have no domestic merchant marine, leaving our military and indeed our economy completely dependent on foreign vessels. This provision should never have been included in this conference report and I will work to repeal it."