Canton Repository

February 26, 2004

Ohio Congressmen want more transportation money

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — When President Bush proposed a tax cut last year, Sen. George Voinovich was one of the first lawmakers to insist that the White House trim the plan to make it more fiscally responsible.

Ironically, the situation is now reversed with Bush threatening to veto a $318 billion, Senate-passed transportation bill that Voinovich supported — but which the White House says is too costly.

Voinovich, R-Cleveland, helped develop the Senate bill.

Fellow Ohio lawmakers, including Reps. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, Tim Ryan, D-Warren, and Ted Strickland, D-Lucasville, also support higher transportation spending than the president.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Cedarville, joined Voinovich in voting for the Senate plan.

Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain, has chosen not to join the debate on highway spending until a transportation bill emerges from the committee process and is presented to the full House.

“Why pick on this highway bill?” said Voinovich on Wednesday in reaction to Bush’s stated determination to control spending. “Why didn’t we make (a stand against overspending) back when I voted against the farm bill, which was an outrageous bill that went way beyond anything that we should have done?”

Transportation spending creates hundreds of thousands of jobs, and provides funds for projects earmarked for local districts and states by lawmakers.

The White House has proposed a $256 billion transportation authorization.

Ney, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, enthusiastically endorsed a $375 billion House transportation bill, which would raise the federal gas tax and index it to inflation, to keep up with rising costs.

Although he is open to raising the gas tax, Ney said it won’t happen.

“I just don’t think the will is here to raise any form of tax,” he said.

Ney said he also supports the Senate bill.

One possibility that is being floated is a temporary two-year transportation authorization that could be passed more easily than a contentious, six-year funding measure.

If it comes down to it, Ney said he’d rather vote for a temporary measure than a six-year bill providing $270 billion or less for transportation, which he considers inadequate.

Regula gives the $375 billion legislation little chance of passage in the House, since House Speaker Dennis Hastert has said he wants to avoid a veto from the president.

“I think probably what will happen is the estimate of revenues (contained in the competing highway bills) will get juggled upward a little bit — enough to get a number that is a compromise that we can agree on,” Regula said.

Ryan favors the $375 billion proposal, and even supports raising the gas tax as long as its revenues are dedicated to highways.

Unlike Ney and Voinovich, who are sympathetic to the idea of raising gas taxes to fund transportation improvements, Regula opposes such a move.