All That's Trucking

Infrastructure and the presidential race

August 15, 2012

We finally got a highway bill, but since it only runs two years, it's something either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is going to have to deal with during the next presidential administration.

Rep. Paul Ryan, left, now the vice presidential candidate, speaks with President Barack Obama in 2010.



Yesterday, we reported that a trio of political leaders is asking the Commission on Presidential Debates to make infrastructure one of the six topics covered in the Obama-Romney debate in Denver on October 3.

Now the record and policies of Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick, Paul Ryan, are being scrutinized as they relate to infrastructure spending, and it doesn't look too good.

A Road Divided

Today, this article in Politico notes that "Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick likely won't do much to elevate the debate over the country's vast infrastructure deficiencies as the two parties duke it out on the national stage. But it does set up a stark contrast in the vision for the country's transportation network, even within the GOP."

In the article "Romney's VP Pick Lays out a Road Divided," authors Burgess Everett and Kathryn A. Wolfe say that "a Romney-Ryan ticket could gun for reduced federal transportation subsidies."

They note that "Ryan's 2013 budget plan called for drastic cuts to transportation spending: In 2013 it proposed $47.1 billion for transportation spending across all modes, as well as the Coast Guard, TSA and a segment of NASA. In comparison, the House's fiscal 2013 transportation spending bill would allocate $71.6 billion for transportation spending alone.

"The basis of Ryan's plan, particularly as it involved spending out of the Highway Trust Fund, held transportation spending to what can be supported by gas tax revenues. That means going from about $52.5 billion annually to about $37.5 billion."

Fight on Transportation

Tuesday, Transportation Nation had an interesting analysis of Ryan's transportation record.

Although author Matt Dellinger talks more about high-speed rail than about highways, there are some interesting tidbits in the article, "Picking Ryan Means Picking Fight on Transportation":

Ryan voted against nearly every piece of transportation legislation proposed by Democrats when they controlled the lower chamber between 2007 and early 2010, including a vote against moving $8 billion into the highway trust fund in July 2008 (the overall vote was 387 to 37), a bill that was necessary to keep transportation funding at existing levels of investment.

"When Ryan became Chairman of the House Budget Committee, in 2011, he put forth a 2012 budget that, reflecting Ryan's commitment not to raise the gas tax or draw from the general fund, reduced transportation spending from its 2011 level of $95 billion gradually down to $66 billion in 2015. That was at a time when the Obama Administration was proposing a six-year infrastructure outlay of $476 billion 'to modernize the country's transportation infrastructure, and pave the way for long-term economic growth.'"

In Ryan's mind, it appears, "transportation spending is not economic investment."

Oink, Oink

However, Dellinger notes, "Ryan did show a certain weakness for transportation dollars back when George W. Bush was President. In July of 2005, he joined the 412-8 majority in voting for the infamously pork-laden, 'bridge-to-nowhere'-building reauthorization bill SAFETEA-LU. And then he sent out a press release listing all of the earmarks he had won for his district."

Of course, Dellinger points out, "five years later, as we know, it became unfashionable, gauche even, to be seen indulging in earmarks and other federal largess."

"With Ryan now on the Republican ticket, one can see more clearly the (sharper) contours of the general election debate," Dellinger concludes, "and infrastructure spending might just have a starring role."