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Surface Transportation Earmark Rescission, Savings, and Accountability Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 5730, the ``Surface Transportation Earmark Rescission, Savings, and Accountability Act,'' introduced by the gentlewoman from Colorado (Ms. Markey).

The gentlewoman from Colorado (Ms. Markey) has scoured the books of the Federal Highway Administration to identify funds that can be rescinded. This bill rescinds $713.2 million of Federal-aid highway contract authority that is currently available for 309 Member-designated projects included in four prior surface transportation authorization bills. It takes this $713 million off the table so that it cannot be used to increase spending in the future. Any savings from this bill will be used to reduce the deficit.

Specifically, the bill:

Rescinds all remaining highway earmarks designated in the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987 (STURAA) (P.L. 100-17): $4.55 million for 2 projects;

Rescinds all remaining highway earmarks designated in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) (P.L. 102-240): $263.543 million for 154 projects;

Rescinds all highway projects designated in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) (P.L. 105-178) that have not obligated at least 10 percent of the funds authorized for the project: $441.475 million for 152 projects; and

Rescinds all High Priority Project program funds authorized by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) (P.L. 109-59) that were not designated for use on a specific project: $8.190 million for 1 project.

In addition, the bill establishes a process for tracking unspent project funds going forward, enabling Congress to identify projects that have inactive funds or that have been completed in the previous year.

Member-designated projects play an important role in the Federal-aid highway program. They provide constituents with a chance to weigh in directly with their elected officials on their community priorities, and allow Members an opportunity to support transportation safety and mobility improvements that may be overlooked by the State Department of Transportation.

Yet, it is also necessary to use a commonsense approach to dealing with projects that are complete or no longer viable. Many of the funds rescinded under this bill are from projects that are complete, but have excess remaining funds that cannot be used now that the project is finished. There is no reason for these remaining funds to stay on the books.

Other projects affected are those that show no likelihood of going forward, due to changing community priorities or other transportation needs. Rescinding funds from projects that are no longer viable is a practical approach to saving taxpayers' dollars.

Rescinding this $713 million now prevents it from being used to increase spending in the future.

It has, unfortunately, become somewhat routine for appropriations bills to rescind contract authority to offset other spending. Such rescissions are included in appropriations acts because they are useful in offsetting other spending. Even if a contract authority rescission is ``scored'' as only reducing budget authority, not outlays, a budget authority offset is often all that is needed to facilitate additional spending in an appropriations bill.

In fact, the Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed to use a portion of the funds rescinded in this bill to offset spending in its version of the FY 2011 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill.

To the extent that this bill takes $713 million off the table and makes that amount unavailable for rescission, or use, by some future appropriations bill, it will indeed result in ``real'' savings.

The gentlewoman's bill is in line with the High Priority Project reform principles issued by the bipartisan leadership of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in April 2009, which established an unprecedented level of transparency, accountability, and reform for surface transportation projects going forward.

These principles called for the repeal of funds from older projects that have not spent out. The gentlewoman's bill is an effective and thoughtful means of achieving this policy objective and will save the government money by eliminating unnecessary project designations.

H.R. 5730 is one step in a continuing effort to find savings within programs under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Other steps are also being taken. Last week, the House passed H.R. 5604, the ``Surface Transportation Savings Act of 2010'', introduced by the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Perriello), which rescinds $107 million in highway safety and transit contract authority.

I applaud the gentlewoman from Colorado (Ms. Markey) for her initiative in bringing this measure forward and her commitment to sound fiscal policy.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting H.R. 5730.


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