by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood derided the looming sequestration cuts as a “dumb idea” that “will not work” and said they would undermine the nation’s transportation system.
LaHood made the remarks in a speech to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), which released his remarks on Thursday.
“Sequester is a dumb idea,” LaHood said to the group. “It’s a meat-axe approach. It will not work in us reaching our goals to improve America’s transportation.”
At the end of his approximately 18-minute speech, LaHood urged the group to lobby lawmakers to reach a last-minute agreement to avert the $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts that are scheduled to take effect on Friday.
LaHood and fellow Cabinet officials have warned of the real-world fallout if the cuts take effect.
The White House and Department of Transportation officials have said that the sequester will cause flight days at major airports because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would have to furlough air traffic controllers.
The FAA stands to have to cut $600 million from its 2013 budget if Congress does not reach a deal to avert the sequester by Friday.
Republicans have cast doubt about the Obama administration’s air travel delay warnings, arguing the FAA can make cuts to its budget in other areas that will not affect air traffic controllers.
LaHood told the state highway officials that they should be concerned about sequester too, because “the whole transportation system” would be affected.
“When one part of transportation is impacted, the whole system is impacted,” he said. “If we’re all in this together, we need your help.”
Elsewhere in his speech, LaHood told the AASHTO members that the next transportation funding bill that is approved by Congress should be a five-year bill that spends at least $500 billion.
The current transportation bill, the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act, allocated $105 billion to road and transit projects over two years.
The 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax that provided funding for previous federal transportation bills only brings in about $35 billion per year now.
Transportation advocates argue the approximately $54 billion per year that is being spent by the MAP-21 bill is barely enough to maintain the current road and transit system, let alone make improvements to it.
LaHood, who has announced that he is retiring soon, said lawmakers’ hands were tied by budget constraints when they were passing the MAP-21 bill.
“It’s no secret, two years was all the money they could find,” he said. “Everyone wished it could be longer, and more comprehensive. We certainly felt that way, but we [were] dealing with what we had.”
However, LaHood said the needs of the transportation system will eventually supersede the budget fights that have dominated Washington in the last couple of years.
“Everybody in America knows what we need,” LaHood said to the group.
“With 50-year-old transit systems all over America, we know what needs to be done,” LaHood continued. “That’s not the question for America today. The question is, how do we pay for it? Where do we get the resources … to get beyond a two-year bill; to do a five-year bill; to have $500 or $600 billion? That’s what the debate needs to be about.”