“Don’t tell me you can’t do it.”

Mica Talks About the Importance of Passing a New Highway Bill and the Need to Reform the Way Transportation Projects in America are Approved

WASHINGTON, DC – House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica appeared before a luncheon meeting of The Ripon Society yesterday afternoon, delivering a speech that not only touched on the current effort to pass a new highway funding bill in Congress, but the failed effort three years ago to spend federal stimulus funds on projects deemed “shovel ready” for construction and repair. 

“One of the most important things we’ve done is educate Congress and America about what shovel ready is,” stated Mica, who has represented the 7th District of Florida in Congress since 1993. “It’s become a national joke. Shovel ready is red tape and paperwork … Did you know that last October there was still 35 percent of the $63 billion in stimulus transportation and infrastructure money sitting in the federal treasury here? So again, you have to have not only a good plan, but you’ve got to also have good policy that can move these projects forwards. Our bill has just that.” 

“Don’t let anyone tell you that Mica wasn’t bipartisan in this process. I went to Beckley, West Virginia — that’s where we held the first hearing. We went across the country. We did a bipartisan, bicameral hearing in Los Angeles with my soul mate, Barbara Boxer. I’ll do anything to pass this bill. And actually she hasn’t been too bad to work with, I have to say. She’s gotten her bill through the Senate. It’s not the bill that I want. It’s lacking. It’s a two year bill — $54.5 billion. The money runs out in 18 months, and I just got a report from staff that there is a $5 billion miscalculation there. They are short in financing it. And then you bankrupt the trust fund. Is that responsible? I don’t think so. Does it get people to work? No, it’s not what we really need now.” 

Mica, who was elected by his colleagues to be Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee after Republicans retained control of Congress in November 2010, then went on to discuss his vision of transportation funding and what the bill he is proposing would do. 

“You need a long term commitment of getting the money that people are paying at the pump in gas taxes back into projects as quickly as you can — building infrastructure without paying for a lot of red tape, paperwork and overhead. One of the cornerstones of our bill is the consolidation of programs. We started out with six basic programs. We are now at 130 … Our proposal is to consolidate some of those programs. You would think I’m doing away with sliced bread as you know it. I’m not — just a couple of end pieces.” 

“Another thing is we’ve got programs that work like TIFIA [the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act]. We can make them work better … Why would I create a federal infrastructure bank that cost $270 million and takes a year to set up with hundreds of bureaucrats that come out on bended knee to do some project when I already have TIFIA? Twenty nine or more states have existing infrastructure banks. But what they don’t have is the money. So what we can do is put a little bit more of that stream of revenue in there and make those projects work.” 

“I don’t want to pass just a highway bill. They passed just a highway bill and that’s the wrong thing to do. You need to have a multimodal approach. Rail is just as important, and it can take a lot of strain and pain off the highway. But we have $36 billion in RRIF [Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing] loan capacity that’s not being used because the terms are not usable. We can take programs that don’t work and make them work. Ports are important. We should have maritime highways. We should be moving much more of our heavy stuff by short sea shipping. There are a lot of innovative approaches to transportation that we should be supporting that we aren’t supporting. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund — $6 billion in capacity — and what they do is play little games. We collect the fees from their ports, and we don’t put the money back into them. So that is why we have a crumbling port infrastructure. So the heart of our bill are some common sense reforms that I think are long overdue. 

“I know this strikes fear into the heart of people in Washington, but let’s stop and think about this. If we streamline the process, do they need to take forever and a day to make an approval? Instead of two years, we shorten it to one year. The average time for approval of a transportation project when the Fed gets involved is seven years, if you’re lucky. But don’t tell me you can’t do it. Oberstar and I were on the floor the day that the bridge collapsed between Minneapolis and St. Paul. We said, ‘Let’s get this done.’ So we did … The bridge opened in 437 days.”

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.