Cantor's loss makes transportation bill passage doubtful

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(U.S. House of Representatives photo)
Eric Cantor

WASHINGTON (June 12, 2014) — The surprise loss of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a June 10 primary election will make passage of important legislation, including transportation funding reauthorization, “utterly impossible” this year, according to Roy Littlefield, executive vice president of the Tire Industry Association (TIA).

Rep. Cantor, a seven-term Republican representing Virginia’s Richmond-area Seventh District, was thought to have one of the safest seats in the House of Representatives. However, David Brat, a Randolph-Macon College economics professor backed by the Tea Party, received more than 55 percent of the vote in the primary.

Now a lame duck, Rep. Cantor announced he would officially resign as House majority leader July 31. His successor has not yet been named.

The current transportation law — the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) — lapses Sept. 30. The Highway Trust Fund, meanwhile, is expected to run out of money sometime in August.

With that Trust Fund date looming, both the Obama administration and Congress have placed a high priority on passing a new transportation funding bill. In May the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously passed a six-year reauthorization bill, but the Senate Finance Committee must act on it before it moves to a Senate vote. Meanwhile, the transportation package passed in 2012 sunsets Sept. 30.

Before Rep. Cantor’s defeat, Mr. Littlefield predicted Congress would pass a transportation bill before the November election, but not determine funding mechanisms until after the election. But now, with the Tea Party flexing its muscles, there is no way Tea Party-affiliated legislators will negotiate or vote for a bill, he said.

“What they will fight for is highway and bridge privatization,” he told Tire Business. “When you own a road or bridge, you expect to get a return on your investment. That means one of three things: You charge a toll, you increase the toll, or you decrease maintenance.”

Already some 6,300 bridges and 800 miles of highway in the U.S. have been privatized, according to Mr. Littlefield.

“This is particularly unfair to truckers,” Mr. Littlefield continued. “They’ll still have to pay highway taxes, so paying tolls on privatized roads is like double taxation.”

Department of Transportation photo Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

Meanwhile, in a public push for highway funding, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and several legislators exhorted transportation construction executives from all over the U.S. June 10 to lobby Congress for fast action on transportation funding legislation.

“Our transportation system doesn’t need another patch — it needs to be fixed,” Secretary Foxx said at Transportation Construction Coalition Fly-In.

The day after Secretary Foxx’s speech, the assembled transportation construction executives were scheduled to meet with their elected officials to urge them to support quick passage of a new transportation bill. The timing of the fly-in was ironic because of Mr. Cantor’s primary loss.

Other speakers at the June 10 event included Sen. David Vitter, R-La.; Sen. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; and Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

(blumenauer.house.gov photo)
Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

The main controversy at the event was over the question of an increase in the federal gasoline tax, which the coalition and Rep. Blumenauer favor but Sen. Vitter feels must be made revenue-neutral. At one point, some of the attendees took Sen. Vitter to task for not offering full support for a gas tax increase.

Founded in 1996, the Transportation Construction Coalition is a partnership formed as an advocate for the continuing reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association and the Associated General Contractors of America are co-chairs of the coalition.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers joined with the coalition in planning and hosting the fly-in.

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To reach this reporter: mmoore@crain.com.

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