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Inhofe, Boren, Fallin speak for transportation stimulus spending

Inhofe, Boren, Fallin speak for transportation stimulus spending

NOTE: This forum was sponsored and hosted by TRUST

by: RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

8/26/2009 6:46:33 PM

McALESTER — Three members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation, including the lone Democrat, hammered the Obama administration’s federal stimulus program on Wednesday, saying more of it should have been spent on roads and bridges.

“The thing that is so stupid ... is that ... only 7 percent stimulates anything,” Inhofe said. “The rest is social engineering.”

Fifth District Congresswoman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mary Fallin and Second District Congressman Dan Boren, a Democrat, echoed Inhofe’s theme.

“Sen. Inhofe is absolutely correct,” Boren told a forum sponsored by a highway-building advocacy group. “If there is any way to put stimulus money back into transportation, we need to do that.”

According to federal government sources, about $27.5 billion from the two-year, $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is set aside for roads and bridges.

Oklahoma is receiving $344 million for highways and bridges, including $75 million to rebuild two sections of Tulsa’s Inner Dispersal Loop.

More than a third of the stimulus package – $288 billion – is listed as “tax relief.” About $144 billion is going to state and local governments, and $53 billion to education and training.

Inhofe, Boren and Fallin participated in a Wednesday morning panel put on by Transportation Revenues Used Strictly for Transportation – or TRUST – a transportation lobbying and advocacy group headed by former state legislator and transportation secretary Neal McCaleb.

Boren said U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wants to pass a full six-year authorization bill this year, but that is unlikely.

“No. 1, the president says he does not want that to happen,” said Boren. “Also, what Chairman Oberstar wants to do definitely will not fly in the Senate.”

Boren said current authorization will probably be extended, perhaps by as much as 18 months.

Fallin, who serves on the committee, agreed.

The stimulus plan, she said, was sold as “a road-building, highway construction package to create jobs while our country gets back on its feet, yet a very small percentage of that went to roads and bridges.”

“This was a missed opportunity for the administration,” Boren said. “There are some good things in there. But you could have had Republicans and Democrats for this thing if you would have taken the money for infrastructure and dovetailed it into tax cuts for small business and leave a lot of things out of it ... you could have had bipartisan support.”

Perhaps the foremost concern of state transportation officials is the transportation trust fund, which provides the federal share of road-building dollars.

Dependent on a federal fuel tax assessed by the gallon rather than as a percentage of sales, revenues relative to demand have decreased as fuel prices go up, driving is curtailed and fuel efficiency increases.

Fallin, Inhofe and Boren said several alternative funding sources are under consideration but didn’t seem to have much enthusiasm for any of them.

They did agree the federal government in general and the current administration in particular is spending too much on bicycle trails and public transportation and not enough on roads and bridges.

McCaleb, in closing, extolled the virtues of what he called “automobility.”

“A lot of people in this country think that individual automobility is some kind of social sin. They would put everybody on buses and trains and put them in apartment buildings .?.?. and that will solve our transportation problems. It will also eliminate the liberty problem. Automobility is what has made this country great and what has made it strong.”

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