(Host) Senator Jim Jeffords is urging the White House to support the U.S. Senate’s plan to increase funding for state highway and bridge projects. Jeffords says more than $200 million in additional funding for the state of Vermont is at stake in this debate.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Congress has been operating without a formal multi-year transportation bill since the beginning of the federal fiscal year last October.
The U.S. Senate has voted to allocate roughly $318 billion over the next six years for these projects; the U.S. House has voted to appropriate $276 billion over the same time period – an amount that’s about 10 percent less than the Senate plan.
Usually the two chambers would find a middle figure between their two positions. But the situation is more complicated this year because President Bush thinks both the House and Senate are spending too much money on transportation. Bush has threatened to veto any bill that appropriates more than $250 billion over six years, a figure that’s well below where the House and Senate are likely to compromise.
Jeffords, who’s the senior minority member on the Senate conference committee, doesn’t think the president’s arguments for fiscal restraint make much sense:
(Jeffords) “Actually if you take the money that you would get by having that extra $50 billion in income, by virtue of all the jobs it would create, it’s less than he saves. It’s just a political move to keep the right wing at bay, I guess, and his conservatives going into the election. I can’t figure any other reason for it. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
(Kinzel) Jeffords says the additional money included in the Senate bill could make a big difference to small states like Vermont. In a number of these states funding would increase by more than 25 percent a year:
(Jeffords) “That’s a lot of extra money that we really need with Routes 4 and 7 and all the other problems – the bridges and all. We’re in desperate need of these. And its jobs, and it really would help the state out as far as the economy goes as well as many, many jobs for our people who are out of work.”
(Kinzel) Jeffords believes the House and Senate will reach agreement in the coming weeks on a transportation spending level that’s fairly close to the Senate’s position. He expects the president will veto the measure and then, he says, it will be up to Congress to override that veto.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.