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Public Statements

Transportation Appropriations

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I will spend some time discussing the amendments we have. There is some opposition to our amendment to allow the States to opt out of being required to fund transportation enhancements. This does not eliminate the enhancements. What it simply does is give the State of Colorado or the State of Oklahoma the opportunity to say, with roads in such disrepair and 138,000 bridges in disrepair, that we have the ability, if we so choose, to take all of the money, instead of 90 percent, and apply it to solve the problems we have.

So it will not force California to not do enhancements. It will not force any State to not do them. It will give them the privilege of electing whether they want to do those enhancements when, in fact, we have such a critical need in terms of roads, highways, and bridges.

So the goal of this--and it is important to know where the money comes from. The money is taxes that are collected from individuals in Colorado and Oklahoma and every other State that are then sent here and then sent back. In my State--I do not know about Colorado--we have never gotten more than 93 percent of what we have sent here. We used to average about 74 percent. But now, as to the money that does come back, 10 percent has to be spent on enhancements, whether that is sound barriers or walking paths or bicycle paths or numerous other enhancements, as under the SAFETEA-LU bill.

So what this amendment does, it does not force anybody to not, but it gives them the option to fix the problems in their State.

I would note that the National Transportation Safety Board notified us that last year 13,000 people died on our highways, not because they made a driving error, not because someone else made a driving error, not because they had a problem with their automobile or with their truck, they had the accident because the roads were substandard. Thirteen thousand people lost their lives.

So the question of priority, of whether my department of transportation in Oklahoma ought to have the ability to fix roads and bridges instead of building sound barriers ought to be left to us.

This amendment is for this year only. It does not eliminate, does not change the law. It just says: We are going to give you the option this year with this money, if your State has needs--and Oklahoma has significant needs; I know Colorado does because I am there a lot--that we do not necessarily spend it on sound barriers, that we can actually spend it on something that is going to save somebody's life. So it does not force anybody to not do enhancements but gives them the right to choose the priority of saving lives over enhancements, if they so desire.

The Senator from California made a statement yesterday about what this amendment would do. There is no force in this amendment other than to allow. It allows the States the freedom to do what is best for their citizens rather than saying 10 percent of the money they get back has to be spent on things that are not going to save lives, are not going to enhance safety, but, in fact, are going to enhance aesthetics.

So I think it is a commonsense amendment. There is no force; that if California wants to continue to spend 10 percent of their money on enhancements, they can. There will be nothing that will keep them from doing that. It will be what the State decides to do rather than what we decide to do.

Since it is money taken from those States, it would seem we would want to give the States the option to make the best priority choice for those dollars for their individual citizens.

I am very appreciative of Senator Murray's agreement to take two of our amendments that are based on transparency to the American public. One requires HUD to report to Congress on homes that are owned and the cost to taxpayers so the American people see what the Department of Housing and Urban Development is doing. The other is an amendment to make available to the public all the reports--and there are numerous reports required in this bill of the Transportation Department--to make those available to the public as well so it is in the light of transparency. I am very thankful for Senator Murray's agreement on those two amendments.

I have two other amendments I will talk about when Senator Murray gets to the floor. Otherwise, Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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