Jim Himes gratified Congress reauthorizes construction funds
At a press conference last Friday, July 31, in his Stamford offices, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th) was gratified to announce that Congress, that same day, had reauthorized funds that will allow construction and other infrastructure projects to continue in Connecticut and other states.
“We’re out of session until the 9th of September,” he said. “So in terms of one thing that did get done and is meaningful and important to Connecticut, we managed to avert the shutdown of transportation construction that would have occurred today had the surface transportation bill not been reauthorized. There was a lot of back and forth between the House and the Senate.
“I personally feel very, very strongly that we should be looking at a long-term reauthorization — four, five or six years, as we have done in the past. We have not managed to do that. Congress has not managed to do that for many years. So we are stuck with a three-month authorization, pushing off until October, the next day of reckoning.”
President Barack Obama is in agreement with Himes.
“We can’t keep on funding transportation by the seat of our pants, three months at a time,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office. “I guarantee you this is not how China, Germany, and other big powerful countries around the world handle their infrastructure.”
Himes told reporters in Stamford that funds from the bill did not fully pay for all the work done, but they represented a sizable chunk.
“You understand that the reauthorization starts the flow of federal money to Connecticut,” he said. “The state gets about $500 million a year for the bridge and highway repair that we need to do here. The state also contributes money. It’s a cost-sharing deal.
“But had we not done the three-month reauthorization we’d see a stop, or at least a slowdown, of many projects around Connecticut, which of course is the exact opposite of what we need. We need an uptick in the intensity of our work on bridges, roadways, highways and railways. So we at least averted the deadline going by, as is what happened with the Export-Import Bank, which was not reauthorized, and as a result is not doing new lending.”
Asked what the prospects are for a long-term deal as opposed to going three-month by three-month, Himes said that “Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader, wants to do a six-year deal. The reason we get stuck on these short-term reauthorizations is you have to pay for it. And traditionally we’ve paid for the bill with the excise tax on gasoline, which has not been raised since the mid-70s. So the fund is kind of scraping the bottom. The three-month extension addresses that, but there is no willingness in Congress to raise the gas tax.”
As for Connecticut projects that could be in trouble if the three-month reauthorization is not extended in October, Himes said nothing being worked on now would likely suffer.
“Projects in their early phases would be most in jeopardy,” he said.
“Because if you’re actually closing down lanes on I-95 to work on a bridge or something, you’re a lot less likely to put a halt on that than you are on projects that haven’t really materialized yet.”