By Melanie Condon
Last week, NCSL President Senator Bruce Starr (R- Ore.) braved the unseasonably cold weather in Washington, D.C., for a whirlwind day of meetings focused on transportation infrastructure funding and financing. In addition to being NCSL president, Starr is also active in NCSL’s Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee and is vice-chair of the Oregon Senate’s Transportation Committee. To say he knows a thing or two about transportation funding in the states would be an understatement.
Starr has been working with NCSL staff over the past few months to convene the MAP-21 Working Group, a forum for transportation-dedicated legislators and legislative staff from around the country to provide input on reauthorization negotiations for surface transportation funding legislation in Congress (known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21).
It was under these auspices that Starr “ducked” into the office of Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)—a proud University of Oregon alumnus—on Thursday morning for the first of multiple meetings that day to discuss NCSL’s position on both long- and short-term surface transportation funding. In addition to being from Starr’s home state, DeFazio is also a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.
Starr continued his day on the Hill with meetings with Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; Representative Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), newly appointed chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. All three committees have a role to play in any MAP-21 reauthorization.
The message in the meetings was the same throughout: States are worried about the future of funding for necessary transportation and infrastructure projects and NCSL wants to help find a solution, both in the short-term and the long-term, to fund these projects. One option Starr urged all afternoon was for Congress to provide additional support for state-level pilot programs to explore transportation funding alternatives.
Starr took a brief respite from Capitol Hill in the afternoon to head to the Department of Transportation to meet with Acting Deputy Secretary Victor Mendez. Mendez was eager to discuss how the administration could work with states to find solutions to the growing problem of the Highway Trust Fund insolvency. He mentioned that the administration will be proposing legislation in the next few weeks that will address the issues in declining transportation financing.
NCSL staff will continue to work with Congress and the administration to promote states’ abilities to find solutions to transportation funding problems.
Melanie Condon is a NCSL policy associate with the Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee.