Laborers’ O’Sullivan: D.C. Political Paralysis Prevents Highway-Mass Transit Bill Solution


            WASHINGTON (PAI)–D.C. political paralysis, with lawmakers “licking their fingers to see which way the wind is blowing” and worrying about re-election, prevents passage of a comprehensive highway-mass transit bill, including a gas tax increase to pay for those repairs, Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan says.
            O’Sullivan laid the blame on that gridlock during a joint June 12 telephone press conference with other members of the coalition – which stretches from the AFL-CIO to the Chamber of Commerce – that has been lobbying for the legislation.
            Passing a highway-mass transit bill would create jobs – 25,000 well-paying construction jobs per $1 billion spent on roads – renew the infrastructure, improve U.S. competitiveness and road safety and help businesses, O’Sullivan says.  But lawmakers don’t seem to get it, he adds.  And Laborers, along with other unionists, are “fed up” with the inaction, he exclaimed.
            “My members are disappointed and disillusioned with this Congress, its inability to address the jobs issue and its inability to come to common-sense conclusions about our transportation infrastructure,” he said.
            “They’re fed up with Washington rhetoric, with what’s not happening and with the inability to solve our problems,” added O’Sullivan, whose union launched a major “Move America” campaign for the highway-mass transit bill months ago.
            O’Sullivan and the other speakers used the conference as yet another forum to push for comprehensive highway-mass transit legislation to fix the nation’s potholed roads and crumbling bridges and repair and replace aging buses and subways.
            The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a 6-year bill for highways last month, and the Obama administration proposed a 4-year $300 billion highway-mass transit bill.  But the House’s ruling Republicans oppose long-term bills, and a tax hike.
            The problem is how to pay for projects.  The federal gas tax, 18.4 cents a gallon, hasn’t increased since 1993.  All the backers, including O’Sullivan, favor legislation to raise it by 15 cents per gallon over three years and then index it for inflation.  Without a hike, the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for all the projects, will run out of money by the end of summer.
            One coalition member , the American Automobile Association (AAA), says its own survey, released earlier this week, shows 52 percent of Americans would pay higher gas taxes if they knew the money would go for road repairs and mass transit, while 51 percent would be more willing to vote for a lawmaker who voted to raise federal gas taxes for that purpose.  Nineteen percent said they would be less likely to support that lawmaker.
            That view may not hit home, however, until road projects get halted in their tracks later this year as highway trust fund money runs out, AAA Legislative Director Avery Ash predicted. Once that happens, he added, lawmakers will hear from their constituents — a lot.

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