ENR Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief Tom Ichniowski caught up with former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta on June 29 to ask him what Congress may do to fix the Highway Trust Fund's problems and how the battle over reauthorizing highway and transit programs might be resolved. Mineta led DOT from 2001 to July, 2006 under President George W. Bush, and then moved to Hill & Knowlton, a public relations and lobbying firm, where he is vice-chairman.
How are things going to play out with the Highway Trust Fund and the two legislative proposals, including the Obama administration's 18-month extension?
They're going to have to have an infusion [from] the general fund—and not only for fiscal year 09, but I think for '10 and '11 as well. So whether or not Ways and Means is going to be able to do that, come up with a system, it's going to be interesting to see.
What about House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar's six-year bill?
Chairman Oberstar mentioned that they've already done [a] markup in subcommittee and next week he hoped to do it in full committee and by the...third week in July he hoped to be on the floor. And I don't see Ways and Means being able to have their part of that funding. But Jim is pushing, very, very hard....He told me over the weekend that he has the Speaker's support for moving ahead, so it's going to be interesting to see whether or not all of the stars, moons and planets are all lined up to fall in place to have it done.
I find it really hard to see how a big bill gets enacted [by Sept. 30].
[Oberstar] had a meeting...last Thursday of [transportation] stakeholders and told them all to get off their dime and let's get this thing moving.
But there's no money attached to the bill yet, is there?
Mineta: No, there isn't. In fact I said to [Oberstar], I'm going to form a new association....the association of open parentheses-dollar sign-close parentheses.
[Note: In the Oberstar bill, authorizations for various program categories aren't specified, but listed as "[$] for fiscal year 2010; [$] for fiscal year 2011; [$] for fiscal year 2012" and so on.]
The other stumbling block is the Senate.
[Senate committee Chairman] Barbara [Boxer] has already committed to an extension.
She says she's going to get her bill introduced in a couple of weeks.
So how do you see this playing out?
I think right now it's a little too hard to call.