TRANSPORTATION EQUITY ACT: A LEGACY FOR USERS--Continued -- (Senate - May 17, 2005)
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Mr. PRYOR. I understand the Senator's concerns and the intent of my amendment is not to restrict competition or new entrants into the marketplace, but to ensure that we focus our resources on the problem as we now know it. I'll be glad to work with you to perfect this definition so that we can properly protect consumers while also ensuring a fair and open market place for the many different services now being offered.
Mr. BOND. I appreciate the Senator's commitment, and I also offer to work with you and Senator LOTT and INOUYE in conference on the amendment regarding procedures for allowing State attorneys general to pursue enforcement actions against interstate household goods movers in federal court. This amendment, which I have worked out with the managers and is being offered by Senator LOTT, establishes an approval process for actions taken by State attorneys general by the Secretary of Transportation before the AGs proceed in court. The amendment is critical because it establishes a responsible framework with a delineation of responsibilities to the States. The efforts of State governments should be focused on investigating and prosecuting those carriers that are too small or cases of fraud that are too isolated to cause a Federal response. At the same time, Federal agencies should be pursuing complaints of fraudulent activities by large and established carriers. By focusing our enforcement efforts along these lines, we will leverage our resources which will improve the effectiveness of the response to fraud and abuse in the household goods moving industry and ensure that no carrier slips through the cracks. The amendment also will ensure that State cases are legitimate and properly prepared. In addition, the amendment provides intervention and substitution authority for the Secretary if the Secretary believes that Federal Government would be in a better position to prosecute the case.
Mr. PRYOR. As a former State attorney general and the ranking member of the Commerce Committee's Consumer Affairs, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee, I have significant concerns with this approach. I believe the amendment proposes a significant departure from precedent and establishes hurdles that could dissuade State attorneys general from proceeding with their cases, to the detriment of consumers. Allowing State attorneys general to enforce Federal laws and regulations with respect to the transportation of household goods in interstate commerce is perhaps the most important aspect of these provisions, since I believe that State attorneys general are much more likely than the Federal Government to doggedly pursue justice for their citizens in these cases.
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Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I want to talk briefly about an amendment to this bill that I cosponsored with Senators HUTCHISON and BEN NELSON.
The amendment repealed, for the most part, an unpopular provision that was included in TEA-21 that has never been utilized: the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program. It is also known as the Interstate Tolling Program.
I understand the desire to find new ways to finance our ever-growing transportation needs. Our roads and bridges are deteriorating; our freight, truck, and passenger traffic is increasing. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, we need an annual investment by all levels of government of $92 billion a year just to maintain the current system. To improve it, we need $125.6 billion a year. This bill addresses only a fraction of those needs, but the increased funding compared to levels contained in TEA-21 is a positive step.
I think we can do better, and I think we have a duty to do better. If we can find ways to provide more money for infrastructure without increasing our Nation's deficit, I believe we should do it. I have voted in the past to increase the level of funding in this bill because I believe it is warranted, it is reasonable, and it is the responsible thing to do.
I applaud efforts to try to find new and innovative ways to finance new road building.
The bill creates a new commission to explore alternative sources of revenue for transportation. I think that is a good idea.
However, I cannot agree that it is a good idea to put tolls on interstate highways that have already been paid for with Federal gas tax dollars. That is what the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Program does.
This pilot program allows tolling of existing lanes on the Interstate Highway. I think that is bad policy, and that is why I have joined Senator HUTCHISON, and Senator NELSON in sponsoring an amendment to strip this program from this reauthorization bill.
My amendment does not affect States' ability to finance new interstate construction using tolls. It does not affect States' ability to convert HOV lanes to High Occupancy Toll--HOT--add new voluntary use tolled lanes to their Interstates, or toll non-Interstate roads.
The amendment only prevents tolling on existing interstate lanes, which have already been paid for once by federal gas taxes.
I see this as an issue of double taxation.
We are talking about interstate highways that were built using Federal gas tax money. There are those who want to tax the use of these same roads that have already been paid for.
I understand the desire to find new ways to finance road building. In Arkansas, our State leaders have chosen to increase the State gas tax throughout the years in order to meet its road construction needs.
In fact, Arkansas is in the top half of State gas taxes. Arkansas has acted responsibly, and now there is an effort to institute tolls on existing interstate highways because some States don't want to raise their gas taxes. They would rather tax through tolling:) I think that is unfair.
This is an issue that affects poor, rural residents who have limited transportation options the most. Over the past few years, EAS and Small Community Air Service funding has been cut to many rural communities, including those in my State of Arkansas. AMTRAK is in financial turmoil, and over the road buses such as Greyhound have dramatically cut service.
Tolls on existing roads, which have already been financed and paid for by federal gas taxes increase the burden on these people. Again, I think it is simply unfair. Not only am I concerned about the double taxation issue, but I believe this is a safety Issue.
Tolls on existing Interstates will produce substantial diversion of traffic to other roads. I believe greater volume of truck traffic on local roads is not something we should encourage by placing tolls on the interstates.
There is also an economic downside to tolling the interstate. Businesses along newly tolled roads which rely on highway travelers--such as truck stops, motels and restaurants--will be hurt economically if significant traffic avoids the toll road.
The bottom line is that I believe allowing tolls on interstate highways that have already been paid for by Federal gas taxes is bad tax policy, is unsafe, and could have very detrimental economic effects. I am hopeful that you will agree with me that tolling existing interstate lanes is a bad idea, and will support our amendment.