I want to commend Chairman D'Amato for convening this hearing on mass transit programs and the reauthorization of ISTEA.
Now that we have made substantial progress toward a balanced budget that maintains critical support for working families, the reauthorization of ISTEA will be the next critical issue before congress. At stake is about $150 billion over the next six fiscal years, 1998 through 2003.
I cannot overstate how important these funds are to my home state of Connecticut. We receive about $345 million a year from ISTEA programs. When you consider that every million dollars sustains about 50 jobs, that translates to more than 17,000 Connecticut jobs that depend on ISTEA funds.
Additionally, in the heavily populated northeast, businesses and consumers continue to struggle with congested roadways and pollution problems. We must have the funds needed to maintain our aging infrastructure. If goods are not moving efficiently through New York, Hartford, and Boston, our nation's economy will fall behind our international competitors.
I am pleased that Chairman D'Amato and several other colleagues on this committee have joined me as a cosponsor of S. 586 , an ISTEA reauthorization proposal that will continue the vital federal programs that have served our nation well during the last six years.
Our bill would continue to distribute funds based on need -- the most efficient way to provide federal support. It would also keep in place important principles that are widely supported by the nation's governors, mayors, and the private sector including:
I am concerned about a number of other reauthorization proposals that have been offered. The so-called "step-2111 proposal that is supported by some of my colleagues in the sunbelt states would cut the percentage of funds that Connecticut receives in half. Some of my colleagues from the western and plains states are supporting another proposal, called "Stars 200011, that would also cut Connecticut's share in half.
But beyond the disastrous consequences for my home state, these proposals would also cut back on vital national programs. They would limit the congestion mitigation and air quality (CMAQ) which has helped reduce pollution across the country. Additionally, by eliminating the interstate maintenance and bridge program, these proposals would take a step backwards in building a strong national transportation policy. One of ISTEA's most important achievements was to provide incentives and dedicated funding for states to maintain existing infrastructure, to ensure that there was not a bias toward costly new construction.
But what concerns me most about these proposals is their rationale for distributing funds. In the past, transportation funds were distributed based primarily on need. That simply makes sense. We have a national transportation system, and we distribute funds based on where the need is greatest. Regrettably, some of my colleagues are arguing that we should move away from that sound principle. They would prefer a greater distribution of funds based on where gas taxes are collected. But that is not how our government works. After all, we do not make decisions about how to allocate defense programs, or medicare, or agricultural support, based on where tax dollars come from.
Let me assure you, if we applied that approach across the board, Connecticut would do much better under federal programs. In Connecticut we have a significant amount of wealth and we pay a substantial amount in federal taxes. On balance, Connecticut contributes about $6-7 billion a year more than it receives back in grants, payments and services.
I would hope that my colleagues would end this civil war over transportation funds. But if we must have this fight, let me assure my colleagues that I am prepared for the battle, and will use every weapon in the arsenal to obtain a fair share of funds for Connecticut.
Of course, our focus today is mass transit. We must ensure that our transit programs are working well for the ten million Americans who use transit every day, and the other 25 million who depend on this transportation on a regular basis.
The benefits from transit programs are enormous. In metropolitan areas, transit saves residents an estimated $20 billion annually in automobile-related costs. Across the country, transit averts $15 billion in congestion costs per year, by easing pressure on crowded roadways.
Connecticut receives about $65 million a year to support transit programs including the metro-north and shoreline east commuter rails, and bus and van services in urban areas. These critical transportation programs help ensure that workers can get to jobs, and that the elderly and disabled people can participate more fully in our society.
We need to look at mass transit programs to see if we can strengthen them further, and I look
forward to hearing the testimony of our distinguished panelists. We must all work together to build a
transportation network that will keep our nation strong as we enter the next century.
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