WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), called on the House of Representatives to delay its summer recess to work on an improved six-year transportation bill. Prior to today’s vote, he spoke from the floor of the U.S. Senate on the need for long-term authorization. Video is available here.
“The transportation bill approved by the Senate is greatly flawed and needs to be improved. We need a long-term authorization bill to give our states and municipalities the predictability they need to plan and invest in our local communities across the country. I voted for this bill solely to keep the process moving forward. I implore my colleagues in the House of Representatives to take up this bill and make it better. Or they can take up their own long-term bill and let us convene a conference committee to reconcile the differences. We’ve been talking since the last short-term extension — and the extension before that — about the need to pass a long-term transportation bill. Let’s finally make the hard decisions and make the constructive compromises to get it done.
“My concerns about this legislation (H.R. 22) range from the ways the bill is paid for and extend to safety issues, rollbacks of environmental protections and threats to historical sites. Some examples include:
- OFFSET: We cannot waste money using private collection agencies to collect tax debt. Under this legislation, private collection agencies would primarily target low-income taxpayers who cannot afford to pay. To make matters worse, prior experiences with private collection agencies have shown that when the cost of administering the program and collector commissions are taken in to account, the American taxpayers actually lose money. This illusory pay for must be taken off the table for good.
- SAFETY: Every year 33,000 families lose a loved one and 2.3 million people suffer injuries in a motor vehicle crash. Astonishingly, this bill makes trucks bigger and allows teenagers to drive them across country. The trucking industry is suffering from a lack of people who want to drive for them and it thinks that opening the job up to more people by lowering the age of eligible drivers from 21 down to a mere 18—at the risk of our safety—will help them find more recruits. Perhaps the industry would be better off increasing wages and improving working conditions for its workers.
- ACCESSIBILITY: The Senate bill, as passed, strips out the minimalist 1 percent floor for funding to ensure that transit projects were accessible for all – this meant wheel chair ramps, safe bike lanes, and other features. This money is helpful when a local government does not have the funds to overhaul a whole station. It can do smaller improvements to connect bikes to transit.
- TRANSIT SAFETY: Amazingly, the bill would delay an end-of-year deadline for railroads to install positive-train control technology to help prevent accidents like the Amtrak crash in Philadelphia in May that killed eight people and injured more than 200. The bill also misses the mark on transit safety by omitting an amendment offered by the Maryland and Virginia senators that would direct the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to proactively develop safety standards in key areas of concern.
- ENVIRONMENT: Public health is at stake as the bill shortens the statute of limitation for filing a legal challenge when a projects would negatively affect the environment; makes it harder for communities to obtain an injunction when the state has prepared an inadequate Environmental Impact Statement; and makes it harder for impacted individuals and communities to claim standing in federal court.
- HISTORIC PRESERVATION: This bill rolls back key protections for our nation’s historic places—provisions that actually protected one of Baltimore’s greatest historical sites: Fort McHenry. Best known for its role in the War of 1812, Fort McHenry successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy. Years ago, Maryland DOT had planned to build a giant bridge over the fort to accommodate I-95. However, MDOT was forced to choose the alternative tunnel we have today because of the protections within current law. This bill removes restrictions and swings the door wide open for infringement on our most precious national historical sites.
“I am pleased that this bill will reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. This is an entity with the sole purpose of leveling the playing field for American companies competing for business overseas. Despite the fact that a majority of both the Senate and House support reauthorizing this important tool for American companies, Republicans in the House continue to prevent a vote that would protect American jobs and continue to bolster American exports,” Senator Cardin added.