STATEMENT OF SENATOR JOHN McCAIN ON THE CONFERENCE REPORT ACCOMPANYING H.R. 3, SAFETEA-LU
July 29, 2005Mr. MCCAIN. Mr. President, the Congress has been unable to pass a highway bill since the expiration of TEA-21 in 2003. Many theories have been offered to explain this failure. My favorite theory was that in the 108th Congress, I, acting in my capacity as a conferee, single-handedly blocked passage of this legislation because I insisted on maintaining fiscal discipline.
Well, Mr. President, I am not serving as a conferee this year. And yet we find ourselves filing extension after extension – I count eleven at this point – to continue funding our transportation system. And I understand that we are actually going to pass a twelfth extension today. It seems that even without my participation as a conferee the Senate and the House have been unable to agree on a bill until now. Frankly, I am not sure that these extensions were such a bad policy, especially when you compare them to the paper Frankenstein that’s been assembled and that sits before us.
This monstrosity of a conference report – which costs an astounding $286.4 billion – is both terrifying in its fiscal consequences and disappointing for the lack of fiscal discipline it represents. What will it take, Mr. President, to make the case for fiscal sanity in Congress? If you had asked me years ago, I would have said that the combination of war, record deficits, and the largest public debt in the country’s history would constitute a sufficient “perfect storm” to break Congress out of the spending addiction it is so famous for. I would have been wrong. It would seem that this Congress can weather any storm thrown at it, as long as we have our pork life-saver to cling to.
I’ve mentioned before that we are all the beneficiaries of the foresight of President Eisenhower and of the Congress that helped to shepherd the original highway legislation through to enactment. The Intestate system is 47,000 miles long, comprised of 62 superhighways crisscrossing the Nation in a grid. Twenty-four percent of all travel occurs on the Intestates, and the system has obtained a record of being twice as safe as other highways. The construction, and the completion, of the Interstate system serve as testament to the ingenuity and hard work of the American people.
How do we celebrate this engineering feat? Mr. President, let me count the ways. As an appetizer, I’ll start with provisions that clearly don’t belong in this legislation:
Sec. 1963. Apollo Theater Leases. This section would require the Economic Development Administration to lease and improve the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. This does not belong in a highway bill, and I question the value of such a provision to the federal taxpayer. There was an attempt to add a similar rider to the war funding supplemental earlier this year.
Sec. 10209. Midway Airport. Directs the Coast Guard, in consultation with the Department of Transportation, to make grants or other funding to provide for the operation of Midway Airport. This is not an airport bill, which doesn’t belong in a highway bill.
Sec. 10211. Treatment as State. Expands the authority of the State of Oklahoma in environmental matters to extend over “Indian country” within that state. Requires that for Treatment as a State under EPA regulations, an Indian Tribe in Oklahoma and the State of Oklahoma must enter into a cooperative agreement to jointly plan administer program requirements. This section is objectionable because it is non-germane to the bill, and is, at least in part, under the jurisdiction of the Indian Affairs Committee, which was not consulted.
Sec. 10213. Tribal Land. This section strikes a provision in the Shawnee Tribe Status Act of 2000 that required the Secretary of Interior to take land into trust for the Shawnee under certain circumstances. The effect of doing this is reportedly to prevent the Shawnee from attempting to open a casino in Oklahoma City, an action reportedly not contemplated by the Act. This section is objectionable because it is non-germane to the bill and under the jurisdiction of the Indian Affairs Committee, which was not consulted.
Sec. 10206. Eligibility to Participate in Western Alaska Community Development Quota Program. Designates a community to be eligible to participate in the western Alaska community development quota program established under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Magnuson-Stevens Act is subject to reauthorization and this provision should be addressed in that legislation.
Sec. 4401. Technical Adjustment. This section would overturn a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and legislate a settlement between the parties that would authorize $4 million to be provided tax free to the Alaska Native Fund. This section might take the cake, Mr. President, because it was not even in either the Senate-passed or the House-passed version of the highway bill. Also, this “Technical Adjustment” is neither technical nor an adjustment but rather a bailout for Hawaii and a blatant give-away to the Alaskan Native Corporation. In 2000, the General Services Administration donated to Tanadgusix Corporation (TDX), an Alaskan Native Corporation, a World War II decommissioned dry dock upon the condition that it be transported from its holding area in Hawaii and placed in Alaska. TDX agreed to this condition. However, after receiving title, TDX began operating the dry dock in Hawaii. When the GSA attempted to enforce the contract, TDX sued the government. A Federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have both ordered TDX to tow the dry dock to Alaska. Additionally, the Department of Justice has filed a false claims suit against TDX for its illegal use of the dry dock. None of this seems to matter to the conferees who require the dry dock to be sold so long as the buyer agrees to operate the dry dock outside of the United States to protect the ports in Hawaii and Alaska from competition. The conferees also require the government to compensate TDX with $4 million dollars tax free. I fail to understand why TDX deserves $4 million dollars tax free when they received the dry dock for free and have used it for five years to generate revenue for the corporation. Incredible. This is a bailout for Hawaii and a tax free gift to Alaska.
The conference report also has several tax-cuts such as the repeal of special occupational taxes on producers and marketers of alcoholic beverages; income tax credits for distilled spirits wholesalers; caps on excise tax on certain fishing equipment; tax breaks for luxury transportation: and an exemption from taxes on transportation provided by seaplanes and certain sightseeing flights. There are many others, Mr. President.
The main course of pork – which is enough to cover desert as well – includes the following provisions:
Sec. 1114. Highway Bridge Program. This section contains bridge construction or improvement projects, totaling $100,000,000 per fiscal year. These include: $12,500,000 per fiscal year for the Golden Gate Bridge; $18,750,000 per fiscal year for the construction of a bridge joining the Island of Gravina to the community of Ketchikan in Alaska; and $12,500,000 per fiscal year to the State of Missouri for construction of a structure over the Mississippi River to connect the city of St. Louis, Missouri, to the State of Illinois. The Gravina Island bridge is the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” because the total population of the island is 50.
Section 1302. National Corridor Infrastructure Improvement Program. Directs the Department of Transportation to establish and implement a program for highway construction in corridors of national significance to promote economic growth and international or interregional trade pursuant to criteria in the section. It lists 33 earmarks for 24 states totaling $1.95 billion.
Sec. 1306. Freight Intermodal Distribution Pilot Program. Directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish and implement a freight intermodal distribution pilot grant program authorized for a total of $24 million. A portion of the funding must be used for the following projects:
Short-haul intermodal projects, Oregon, $5,000,000. The Georgia Port Authority, $5,000,000. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, $5,000,000. Fairbanks, Alaska, $5,000,000. Charlotte Douglas International Airport Freight Intermodal Facility, North Carolina, $5,000,000. South Piedmont Freight Intermodal Center, North Carolina, $5,000,000.
Sec. 1307. Deployment of Magnetic Levitation Transportation Systems. Authorizes a total of $40 million for MAGLEV deployment and earmarks 50 percent of the funding made available each year for a MAGLEV project between Las Vegas and Primm, Nevada and 50 percent for a project east of the Mississippi River.
Sec. 1702. Project Authorizations. This section would fund 5,173 projects, totaling $14.8 billion. Among the more egregious projects are the following:
$2,320,000 to add landscaping enhancements along the Ronald Reagan Freeway Route 118 for aesthetic purposes. Ronald Reagan would certainly not be pleased by this.
$480,000 to rehabilitate a historic warehouse on the Erie Canal in the Town of Lyons, New York.
$600,000 for High Knob Horse Trails, construction of horse riding trails and associated facilities in High Knob area of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.
$2,560,000 for the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Corridor in Virginia. These funds would be used for acquiring the site; designing and constructing an interpretative center, and for the enhancement of the trail corridor.
$120,000 for Town of St. Paul – restoration of Hillman House to serve as trail information center. $400,000 to rehabilitate and redesign Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, New York. $2,400,000 for the National Infantry Museum Transportation Network, Georgia. $960,000 for transportation enhancements to Children’s Museum of Los Angeles. $1,200,000 for the Rocky Knob Heritage Center in Virginia. $1,600,000 for the Blue Ridge Music Center in Connecticut. $200,000 for the Deer Avoidance System, to deter deer from milepost markers in Pennsylvania and New York. $1,280,000 for the Cultural & Interpretative Center in Richland, Washington. $1,200,000 for the planning and engineering of The American Road, The Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn, Michigan. $1,000,000 for the Oswego, New York pedestrian waterfront walkway. $400,000 for Uptown Jogging, Bicycle, Trolley Trail, Columbus, Georgia $2,000,000 for Ketchikan, Alaska, to improve marine dry-dock facilities. $3,000,000 for dust control mitigation on rural roads in Alaska. $850,000 for the Red River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Louisiana. $5,000,000 for the Grant Tower Reconfiguration in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Sec. 1801. Construction of Ferry Boats and Ferry Terminal Facilities. Would set aside $20,000,000 for the construction or refurbishment of ferry boats and ferry terminal facilities. Of this amount, $10,000,000 would be earmarked for Alaska, $5,000,000 would be earmarked for New Jersey, and $5,000,000 would be earmarked for Washington.
Sec. 1934. Transportation Improvements. Authorizes “such sums as may be necessary” to carry out this section, and then provides a table listing 465 earmarked projects totaling $2,602,228, 995. The big winners are: State Number of projects Alaska 13 Colorado 13 Georgia 18 Iowa 67 Michigan 13 Missouri 17 Montana 19 North Carolina 13 Oregon 14 Pennsylvania 20 Vermont 16
And, Mr. President, I note that some states get nothing.
Sec. 1940. Going-to-the-sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana. Authorizes $50 million for a project to be 100 percent federally funded to reconstruct a road in Glacier National Park. Our national parks face serious resource challenges. Why does this road get priority over the hundreds of other critical needs within the National Parks System?
Sec. 1941. Beartooth Highway, Montana. Upon the request by the state of Montana, the Secretary shall obligate such sums as necessary to reconstruct the Beartooth Highway. Perhaps some of the work on the Bear DNA can be used with this project?
Sec. 1943. Great Lakes ITS Implementation. Provides $9 million to continue ITS activities in the Milwaukee, Chicago, and Gary, Indiana.
Sec. 1944. Transportation construction and Remediation, Ottawa County Oklahoma. Authorizes $10 million for the State of Oklahoma for all activities in the Oklahoma Plan for Tar Creek.
Sec. 1945. Infrastructure Awareness Program. This section would obligate the Secretary of Transportation to “fund the production of a documentary about infrastructure that demonstrates advancements in Alaska, the last frontier.” The federal share of the production of the documentary will be 100 percent. A whopping $2.95 million will be spent on this boondoggle.
Sec. 1949. Knik Arm Bridge Funding Clarification. Directs the DOT to provide all funds earmarked for the Knik Arm Bridge to be provided to the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority. The total earmarked is $229.45 million. The Knik Arm Bridge will then be renamed “Don Young’s Way” under another section of the legislation.
Sec. 1957. Traffic Circle Construction, Clarendon, Vermont. Authorizes $1 million for the State of Vermont to plan and complete construction of a traffic circle at a specified location in Vermont.
Sec. 1960. Denali Access System Program. Directs the Department of Transportation to establish a program to pay the costs of constructing infrastructure identified for the Denali access system program in Alaska. Authorizes $60 million for the project.
Sec. 1962. Multimodal Facility Improvements. Authorizes $5 million for facility improvements, construction, and ferry acquisition by North Bay Ferry Services, Inc in Petaluma, California.
Sec. 1945. This section would provide $3 million to “fund the production of a documentary about infrastructure that demonstrates advancements in Alaska, the last frontier.”
Sec. 2016. Rural State Emergency Medical Services Optimization Pilot Program. Provides $1,000,000 to conduct a pilot program for optimizing emergency medical services in a rural State. Paragraph (c) directs the Secretary shall enter into an agreement with the State of Alaska to conduct the pilot program.
Sec. 5304. Statewide transportation Planning. This section would fund ferry projects including $25 million for projects in Alaska and Hawaii and extension projects utilizing ferry boats, ferry boat terminals, or approaches to ferry boat terminals; $2.5 million for the San Francisco Water Transit Authority for each fiscal year 2006 through 2009; $2.5 million for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Ferry System; $1 million for the Governor’s Island, New York Ferry System; and $1 million for the Philadelphia Penn’s landing Ferry terminal.
Sec. 5511. Motorcycle Crash Causation Study Grants. Directs the Department of Transportation to provide grants to the Oklahoma Transportation Center to study motorcycle accident investigation methodology– $1,408,000 for each fiscal years 2006 and 2007.
Sec. 5513. Research Grants. Directs the DOT to issue a grant to the Calspan University of Buffalo and the State University of New York for transportation injury research– $1,250,000 for each of fiscal years 2006 through 2009.
Sec 5203. Technology Deployment. Authorizes $1,000,000 for fiscal years 2006 and 2007 for a wood composite products demonstration project at the University of Maine. Is it a national transportation infrastructure priority that we push wood composite products according to the University of Maine?
Section 5501. Transportation Safety Information Management System Project. Directs the Secretary to undertake a study on Earthquake hazard reduction in cooperation with the University of Nevada and the University of Buffalo– $2,500,000 for each fiscal years 2005 through 2009.
This is how this Congress administers the money of the American people, Mr. President. In the 1950s when President Eisenhower’s “Grand Plan” was being formulated, the country focused on building a unified transportation system to improve the safety, security, and economy of our Nation as a whole. Now, Congress circles transportation funds like sharks. Instead of serving the public good, this Congress slices and dices the Treasury’s money to fill up the pork barrel. And we do so with grand speeches and lofty language, with no trace of shame or irony.
We live in the Era of the Earmark, Mr. President. In 1982, the transportation bill included 10 earmarks costing $386 million. In 1987, the bill included 152 earmarks, with a cost of $1.4 billion. By 1991, the bill included 538 earmarks – costing taxpayers over $6 billion. Our most recent transportation bill, TEA-21, included 1,850 earmarks with a price tag of more than $9 billion. The legislation that we are voting on today eclipses those numbers. I am told that SAFETEA-LU includes over 6,300 earmarked projects totaling over $20 billion.
Some members of Congress may be happy to associate their names with this legislation – the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for example has made sure that this legislation renames the Knick Arm Bridge in Alaska “Don Young’s Way.” The bridge would also receive more than $229 million. I want no part of this, Mr. President. This legislation is not – I emphasize not – my way of legislating.
And I’m sure, Mr. President, that if we had adequate time to review this conference report we would find more pork and more inappropriate provisions. But, of course, we will once again go through this process too quickly for a proper evaluation. This conference report is over 2,000 pages long – and over six and one-half inches high – and yet we’ve had less than a day to review it. And that doesn’t even include the statement of managers, which sits in a box in the cloakroom – making it difficult for any member to read.
Mr. President, fiscal prudence is crucial. But even if the conferees had excluded pork from this legislation, that alone would not make it adequate. Equity is also essential, and – unfortunately – the conference report that is before us still retains a grossly unfair feature of past legislation.
This conference report perpetuates the historical discrepancy between donor States and donee States. Remarkably, not only does the bill continue this disparity, it actually exacerbates it. Whereas the bill that was passed last year by the Senate would have increased, at least theoretically, every State’s rate of return to 95 percent in the final year of the bill – 2009 – the substitute amendment before the Senate only promises a rate of return of 92 percent in 2008 for those States. Until then, many States will linger at a rate of return of 90.5 percent in the first year and less than 92 percent thereafter while others receive more – in some cases much more – than what they contribute to the Highway Trust Fund.
As if that weren’t enough, this year’s bill would actually propose to create further disparities between States. Though “Equity” is in the title of the legislation, the number of donor states would increase from 28 under current law to 30. In addition, 16 states would linger at the bottom of the barrel through 2009. Some may argue that these so-called super-donor States should be satisfied with the fact that they are scheduled to move from a rate of return of 90.5 percent to one of 92 percent in 2008. I would suggest that this is a meager improvement over current law and nothing to cheer about. After all, many other States are set to receive significantly higher rates of return. While a State like Ohio is expected to receive 92 percent in 2009, Alaska will receive a rate of return of almost 530 percent in the final year. 530 percent on top of the hundreds of earmarks and special provisions that are in this conference report.
Mr. President, I fully recognize that during the years when the Federal government was building the Interstate system, a redistribution of funding between the States may have made sense. Clearly, it would have been very difficult for the State of Montana, for example, with fewer than a million people, to pay the full cost of building its share of the Intestate system. But, Mr. President, that era is over. Congress declared the construction of the Interstate system complete in 1991. Yet here we are, almost 15 years later, and donor States are still expected to agree to the redistribution of hundreds of millions – if not billions – of dollars to other States regardless of the already enormous transportation needs of donor States.
That’s not where this story end, though, Mr. President. The rate of return formula is based on the authorized funds that are “below the line” – that is, that count towards the calculation of the rate of return. There is a significant amount of funds that is “above the line.” These funds are not counted in the rate of return calculation. It’s above the line that more mischief takes place. For example, $100 million is earmarked for the Alaska Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement project above the line. This means that Alaska’s rate of return significantly understates the amount of Federal funding that Alaska receives under this legislation. The race for pork that takes place above the line also explains why some States that are nominally donor States might be happier with this legislation than one would expect. For example, California will receive over $1 billion in funding for earmarked projects above the line – that’s well over the average annual funding that California receives below the line.
In closing, Mr. President, I note that the conference report exceeds the funding level requested by the President of $284 billion by over $2 billion.