Shaheen urges House to vote on transportation bill
By John TooleJune 14, 2012
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rockingham Planning Commission executive director Cliff Sinnott yesterday injected a new concern for New Hampshire in the federal transportation funding debate.
They said local bus operators in Derry, Salem and other communities could be forced to curtail service if the stalemate in Congress isn't resolved before October and disrupts federal grants.
"Most likely they would have to curtail services," Sinnott said.
Shaheen, meanwhile, said "vote counters" maintain there is enough support in the House to approve a Senate transportation funding bill, if Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor let it come to a vote.
Shaheen, responding to a question in a phone conference from Washington yesterday, told reporters she hoped Congressmen Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass, both Republicans, would use their influence with Boehner to allow the vote in the Republican-controlled House.
"We need to see the House move this legislation," Shaheen said.
Bass said he agrees with Shaheen.
He said he has advocated to House leaders for several months to come to a resolution. Bass is part of a bipartisan group of House lawmakers who have been pressing leadership to allow a vote on the Senate plan.
"This issue is too important to be left to political posturing or gimmicks," Bass said.
Guinta acknowledged a long-term transportation plan is necessary, said he worked on a House proposal that took care of New Hampshire's needs earlier this year, then criticized the Democrats for failing to put one in place when they controlled Congress and the White House.
"I urge Sen. Shaheen to use her influence with Senate Majority Leader (Harry) Reid to push for a true reauthorization bill that after years of abdicating their responsibility will finally offer states and municipalities the predictability and stability they desperately need," Guinta said.
Shaheen scheduled the teleconference to call attention to the soon-to-lapse temporary funding authorization approved by Congress earlier this spring.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed its own plan in March, 74-22.
Already of concern to New Hampshire officials is ongoing funding for highway projects, including the $800 million Interstate 93 widening.
Without assurances from Washington that funding will be forthcoming, state Department of Transportation officials are unlikely to pursue bonding for future I-93 projects, Sinnott said.
"DOT needs to have some sense of certainty about the revenue stream," Sinnott said.
The federal stalemate also binds the hands of local officials.
"There is no certainty for planning ahead for projects," Sinnott said.
Then there is the question of economic development.
Londonderry Town Administrator David Caron said companies are interested in locating around Exit 5 if the I-93 widening is completed.
"Folks are reluctant to commit to relocating until there is a definitive plan for widening I-93," Caron said.
Pike Industries president Christian Zimmerman said long-term highway funding matters to his road-building business and means jobs for New Hampshire.
"You just can't operate a business with a three-month outlook," Zimmerman said.
There is 100 percent correlation between highway funding and jobs, he said.
"If it's up, we're going to have more people employed," Zimmerman said.
Pike said New Hampshire stands to receive $10 million to $20 million in increased funding under the Senate proposal.
Shaheen said there is concern that the House will delay highway funding reauthorization past the election in November.
The House has only a few more session days planned and Cantor has said there will be no more policy discussion until after the election, Shaheen said.
All it would take, she said, is for the Speaker to bring the Senate bill to a vote.
"He doesn't seem willing to do that," Shaheen said.