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Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users

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Location: Washington, DC


TRANSPORTATION EQUITY ACT: A LEGACY FOR USERS -- (House of Representatives - March 10, 2005)

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Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Speaker, in a letter that went from Suzanne Novak on behalf of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU to the gentleman from Alaska (Mr. Young), the honorary chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Oberstar), ranking member, she wrote in that letter in support of the Federal Government supporting States and being very specific about the bidding laws in contracting to respond to the collusion or the possibilities of collusion that have existed, I can assure my colleagues, not only in the State of New Jersey.

She wrote this: "Several recent scandals regarding government contracting in New Jersey prompted New Jersey to establish a criterion of responsibility for government contracting which prohibited the State from contracting with an entity that has contributed to a candidate for or holder of the office of Governor, or to any State or county political party committee, within certain time frames. The executive "order of the Governor" "explicitly stated that 'the growing infusion of funds donated by business entities into the political process at all level of government has generated widespread cynicism among the public that special interest groups are "buying" favors from elected officeholders.' "

Mr. Speaker, the courts have recognized that contributions from government contractors present a severe risk of engendering corruption, the appearance of corruption and, thus, have generally upheld pay-to-play contribution bans, and this is what this amendment is all about. It is a bipartisan amendment to reform government, to help government clean up its act. We have similar laws on the Federal books about contracting and bidding. We want to remove cynicism from the public about when the government does business that there is proper conditions that will be implemented to make sure that it is done according to the law.

Blount v. the SEC was a perfect example. The Securities and Exchange Commission made it very clear that if you were going to do some bonding work, that if you give a political contribution to the entity beforehand, that is rather suspect. So let us remove that possibility. There is no doubt, if we do not allow the States to do what the Federal Government has on the books, how are we going to justify that?

This is a win-win situation. Neither party is the source of corruption and neither party is privy to virtue; let us accept that. Let us also accept that this is a bipartisan amendment, introduced in good faith, so that each of the parties, if you will, look good. Not only talk the talk but take that extra step to clean up their own acts. How can we in this House not permit or allow each of the States to provide for cleaner governments?

This is reality. The Federal law, the court cases have backed up this effort. There is no reason under the sun. This is bipartisan. It will help both parties and it will reduce the cynicism that exists in many, many areas of the public.

So, Mr. Speaker, this great H.R. 3, the Transportation Equity Act, we have worked on it a long time. I have saluted both the Chair, as well as the ranking member. I have not heard one cogent argument as to why we should not pass and allow States to reform their own act and clean up their own acts.

One criticism I heard is that this is going to open up a Pandora's box. The Federal Government has rules on the books already. Are we going to tell the Federal Government, you have opened up a Pandora's box because you are trying to implement clean-government rules? That is absurd. Give me one legal reason why this amendment should not only be in order, which it is, but it should not be both sides of the aisle supportive. Give me one good legal reason.

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AMENDMENT NO. 6 OFFERED BY MR. PASCRELL

Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

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Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

The so-called "pay-to-play" restrictions, Mr. Chairman, enacted in many States like Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, South Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia, for instance, there is a threat which is real; and whether it is real or whether it is apparent, we need to stamp out corruption. We have come to an agreement in the State of New Jersey. We have come to bipartisan support of an attempt by both sides of the aisle to end corruption as not only we know it because neither party is privy to virtue, neither State is privy to corruption.

What we are trying to do here is look at what is the result of large political contributions from contractors who try to influence the awarding of public contracts. Mr. Chairman, there is Federal precedent for this, and I would venture to say that we all in this Chamber should be reading what that precedent is. This does not open up a Pandora's box. This is simply providing States the ability to clean up their own act, to reform their own government, and to give those people an opportunity to bid in a more apparent, transparent process.

Mr. Chairman, the Federal Highway Administration argued that the New Jersey order violated section 112 of title XXIII, a provision dealing with bid-letting. This amendment intends to support what New Jersey has attempted to do to open up the bid process, not to close it down, not to shrink it, but rather to expand it so that there is more transparency.

Why should the Federal Government stop those States who want to end the process of corruption in their contract-letting? Why should this Federal Government, which has our own rules, the SEC was a perfect example of this just a few years ago, that if you are going to contribute, then you need to stay out of the process of bidding. This passed in the New Jersey Assembly 78-0. It passed in the New Jersey Senate 34-0. It is bipartisan.

Mr. Chairman, I yield to the gentleman from New Jersey.

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Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time, the Pascrell-Menendez-LoBiondo amendment only impacts States that choose to pass a pay-to-play reform law. This is a win-win for both sides. I cannot emphasize that enough. How many times have we come to this Chamber when we try to get it over on the other side? That is natural in politics.

This is a win-win for both sides, not only in New Jersey but throughout the country. I ask for the support of this body. I think this is good legislation, I think the amendment makes sense, and it is backed up by Federal law.

Mr. Chairman, I yield the balance of my time to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Menendez).

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