Canton Repository

March 15, 2002

House takes step to boost highway funding for U.S. 

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — Republican House committee leaders have added $4.4 billion in highway funds to an early version of the 2003 budget, the first step in increasing the dollars that will be distributed to Ohio and other states next year.

During a trip to Washington two weeks ago, Gov. Bob Taft said his top priority was getting Congress to add at least $4 billion in
highway funding that had been cut because of a recession-induced fall in gasoline tax revenues.

In February, President Bush proposed $23.3 billion in highway funding for 2003, $4.4 billion less than the original authorized amount of $27.7 billion.

Taft warned that the proposed reduction in spending would force Ohio to eliminate or delay up to 17 planned highway construction projects. Those projects include the widening of two segments of Interstate 77 in Canton, planned to start next year.

Taft and other governors have lobbied Bush and Congress to restore highway funding to previously authorized levels or increase it.

Efforts to add at least $4.4 billion in highway spending have broad, bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Earlier this week, Republican leaders of the House Transportation and Budget Committees agreed to add $4.4 billion in highway funding to a House budget resolution that marks an early step in the budget process.

A $4.4 billion increase would translate into an additional $141 million for Ohio next year. That would bring Ohio’s highway allocation up to $867 million in 2003, still less than the $960 million Ohio received this year.

In addition, there are bills in the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support that would increase highway funding by at least $4.4 billion.

By including the money in the resolution, which still must be passed by the full House, lawmakers have only taken the first step toward increasing highway funding. Additional bills need to be passed to guarantee the funding.

“It has a high probability of survival,” Steve Hansen, GOP spokesman on the House Transportation Committee, said of the $4.4 billion in additional highway funds.

Bush’s lower spending proposal was based on a mechanism in which highway spending falls when gas tax revenues drop. Earlier this week, however, administration officials indicated they are looking for ways to provide more highway funds to states.

Ohio officials welcomed what they view as progress in raising funding. “It’s a positive for Ohio and we’re going to continue working with the Ohio congressional delegation to see if we can restore as much as possible,” said Brian Cunningham, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The federal government is spending $31.9 billion on highways this year. Ohio officials had expected that next year’s spending would come close to this year’s.