Congressman Bill Owens voted today in favor of the conference report for H.R. 4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, a two-year extension of federal highway programs that will help create jobs, provide certainty in the private construction and manufacturing job sectors, and improve New York's aging infrastructure. Owens has discussed the need for a long-term transportation bill with county highway administrators, the Associated General Contractors of America, local unions, and area businesses -- including Greystone Quarries in Plattsburgh and Barrett Paving in Watertown. The legislation has gained strong support from industry stakeholders and is expected to be passed by the Senate and signed into law this weekend.
"This bill represents bipartisan support for job growth and a commitment to improve our aging transportation infrastructure that will allow local and industry leaders to plan for the future," said Owens. "I have heard consistent support from constituents across the region for a long-term transportation bill that will provide certainty for major projects. This legislation will kick-start road, rail, bridge, mass transit and other projects critical to making overdue repairs, putting local businesses to work and creating a more attractive environment for businesses to hire and invest in New York State."
Congressman Owens held a conference call with county road supervisors from the congressional district early in the process to listen to their concerns about transportation funding. They noted their concern over the possible elimination of a provision dedicating state funds to "off-system," and often rural, bridges. Congressman Owens co-sponsored an amendment to maintain these dedicated funds in the House bill and wrote to conferees to urge its inclusion in the final bill, an effort that was ultimately successful.
"I appreciate the input I received from constituents on this important issue. It is absolutely critical that the transportation needs of rural communities are met, and I was pleased to see that the language that local leaders called for was included in the final bill," Owens continued.
The conference report for H.R. 4348 includes language maintaining federal student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent, which were scheduled to double on July 1st. In New York's 23rd Congressional District, 23,131 students currently borrow $91,163,276 worth of federally subsidized Stafford loans. H.R. 4348 will keep interest rates on need-based student loans at 3.4 percent next year, saving borrowers an average of $1,000 in loan repayment costs.
"Northern New York is home to world-class institutions of higher learning that prepare the next generation of highly-skilled workers. I am pleased Congress was able to reach bipartisan agreement on keeping interest rates low for student borrowers," Owens said.
The Congressman was pleased to see the legislation clear a major hurdle on its way to the White House to be signed into law, but expressed disappointment that the Keystone XL pipeline was not included in the legislation and urged Congress to work together and avoid future brinksmanship. He also voiced concern that the Coordinated Border Infrastructure program -- a program Owens fought to include -- was not reauthorized in the conference report.
"No legislation is ever perfect, and I am disappointed that the Keystone pipeline was not included in this legislation. I would have also liked to see programs to improve the safe movement of vehicles across the Canadian border that were not reauthorized in the bill."
Transportation investments have lagged in recent years as partisanship in Washington has delayed a long-term reauthorization, forcing Congress to instead rely on eight temporary extensions since the most recent highway bill expired in 2009. Many local leaders have described the current political environment as discouraging when it comes to investing in long-term projects.