Why a 2010 Highway Bill is Dead in the Water - Editor's Note
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SECTION: Editor's Note

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Contact Kim Phelan at (800) 388-0650 ext. 340.

Why a 2010 Highway Bill is Dead in the Water

By Kim Phelan

Article Date: 08-01-2010
Copyright(C) 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

What’s worse than bickering, inaction and no money? How about absence of common sense.

For the second year in a row, at least since I began paying attention, a pair of Merlin hawks nested in my neighborhood this spring and beginning a few weeks ago, we now have three gawky adolescent hawk babies swooping around our yard, calling to each other with an endearing, peepy sort of whistle. Trouble is, these hawks hunt other little birds, and just like us at their age, they can be pretty sloppy in their apprentice work. Twice in one weekend, my 10-year-old daughter found the remains of one of their dietary experiments in her backyard swimming pool.
I bring this up not to gross you out, but to talk about things that cause disgust. You can probably already guess where I’m going.
A few months ago, I heard Jeff Davis, editor/publisher of Transportation Weekly in Washington, give a talk about the highway bill during AED’s annual Fly-In to the nation’s capital. He explained the many reasons why it just ain’t going to happen in 2010, and the improbability of it even occurring in March 2011. I’ll list some of these reasons in a minute. What amused me was his commentary about the president’s high emphasis on creating vaguely defined “livable communities.” Jeff joked that in physics they name units of measurement after famous scientists, and he speculated on what it would be like to have the measurement of happiness – aka livability – (whatever that means) named after you.
It got me thinking of what unit of measurement would suitably bear my name. I’d have to say that the Phelan Factor could be a term used for a unit measuring a level of distaste. For example, a PF of 5 may be the irritation of an unsatisfactory waiter. A PF of 20 may be the annoyance mixed with nausea upon finding a dead bird in your pool. And a PF of 100 is the utter disgust for the federal government’s irrational priorities and hence inaction on funding the nation’s infrastructure.
You want a definition for livability? How about thriving communities with abundant, well constructed and maintained water and surface infrastructure, where citizens have jobs and low taxes. Go ahead and give me bike paths for all our low-carbon footprints once these things are in place.
But by all appearances, says Jeff Davis, the highway bill (which is core to fulfilling my livability definition) stands as much chance of passing this year as a hawk’s chance of writing next month’s cover story. It’s simple, you see – there are too many forces pitted against one another, and he’s not just talking about Ds vs. Rs. He cites pro-urban decision-makers (on the House side) vs. pro-rural decision-makers (on the Senate side) who fight for shares of gas tax dollars; and then there are states vs. states vying for those dollars, too. There’s Rep. Boxer from northern California vs. Sen. Inhofe from Oklahoma who are on polar opposite sides of environmental issues concerning the highway bill. And believe it or not, there’s even the President Obama vs. Congress tension – Jeff says even if Congress could overcome its own infighting, they’d never succeed in passing the bill without the president’s blessing.
“The gas tax was raised in 1959, 1982, 1990 and 1993, and all four times it took strong presidential leadership out there,” said Davis.
Bottom line, however, even if Congress, Mr. Obama, and all God’s children wanted a highway bill, one final obstacle would block its completion: “No money,” Davis added. “Less than no money. They ran out of money two years ago and have been borrowing ever since; begging actually.” (He refers to three HTF bailouts totaling $34.5 billion.)
Almost as bad as the absence of money is the absence of logic – logic that leads to the rational conclusion that raising the gas tax is just plain essential. But it’s politically unpopular around election time to even whisper the T word.
All this talk of politics reminds me: Come hear what political pundit Bernadette Budde has to say about the nation’s hottest Congressional races – she’s speaking at the AED/Lawson Executive Forum in September (www.aednet.org/execforum). Even if you think Washington has a PF of 500, at least you’ll know what to expect in the pool.

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