WASHINGTON — Under a new House proposal, Louisiana could lose up to $271 million next year as part of a new federal transportation funding package.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., recently unveiled the six-year plan that would cut transportation funding across the nation by 34 percent.
Though not directly tied to the deficit negotiations, Mica said his proposal is being considered in the atmosphere of the spending cuts talks between the Congress and President Barack Obama.
“We believe we can do a lot more with less,” Mica said.
The negotiations, Mica said, are a key reason to keep the budget within the parameters of the trust fund, which is the repository for federal taxes on gasoline sales.
Mica’s proposal faces tough hurdles in the Democratically controlled Senate.
The $230 billion offer to only spend the amount of money coming into the federal treasury from highway gas taxes indicates the austere budget climate in the Republican-controlled U.S. House that could affect the nation’s roads, bridges and transit programs.
Mica said 90 percent of the money would be dedicated to highways.
“It was realistic,” U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, said about the proposal. “It’s certainly not things that I’d like to see right now, but I certainly would like to see this government put on a fiscal footing.”
Louisiana will have a front-row seat in the debate through Landry, who sits on Mica’s House transportation committee, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who is the veteran Republican on the Senate transportation and infrastructure subcommittee.
Vitter declined to comment on the Mica proposal but issued a statement with fellow members of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in support of a Senate plan that they said would fund programs at current levels.
Committee Chairwoman and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., initially said her version of that bill would be $339.2 billion over the six-year plan.
Boxer has since said she will likely move forward with a two-year bill that would cost about $109 billion. Boxer believes Vitter and the other two senators supporting her — one a Democrat and another a Republican — will back her plan, she has said.
Boxer’s proposal would be about $20 billion higher per year than Mica’s plan, which would freeze funding at $35 billion annually.
Obama has called for a $500 to $550 billion bill without specifying where the money will come from.
Boxer has also expressed concern over how the Mica proposal would affect jobs. About 8,115 jobs would be eliminated in Louisiana, based on data from the Federal Highway Administration released by Boxer and House Transportation Committee Democrats.
Louisiana receives $798 million per year from the federal government for transportation. Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri H. LeBas declined to comment on the Mica proposal but issued a statement expressing concern about any cuts in funding.
Mica has yet to introduce his legislation.
“It is premature to comment on any potential effects since no details have been released, only an overview,” LeBas said. “Obviously a reduction in overall funding is not good news.”
What comes out of any Senate and House negotiations will set the numbers affecting the state, LeBas said.
“Any reductions in federal appropriations will result in delay or cancellation of some projects and will adversely affect both rural and urban transit programs,” LeBas said.
Mica said he plans to use federal and private sector loan programs to leverage further transportation funding that he said could double the amount available. Not sticking to the trust fund parameters would allow it to become insolvent, Mica said.
Any additional transportation money should be found in other wasteful government allocations and stay within the call of House Republicans that bills not be passed that add to the federal budget deficit, Landry said.
“Instead of getting a 34 percent cut maybe we can get a 34 percent increase,” Landry said. “In these tight budget times, everybody is going to have to tighten their belt.”