In defiance of President Bush, United States senators agreed to move ahead with transportation legislation that would spend $311 billion over six years compared with the administration's proposed budget of $256 billion.
The action could lead to a fuel tax increase.
“It's all about pork,” said one lobbyist of the 75-to-11 vote on the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003 (SAFETEA).
Traditionally, transportation appropriations have been the one place where legislators can bring home the bacon to constituents in the form of highway and bridge construction, mass transit, and other high-profile local projects. These projects produce jobs and revenue and are often highlighted during re-election bids.
Most projects are easily justified because they relieve traffic congestion, fix bad roads, and improve local economies.
In a statement, Sen Bill Frist of Tennessee has said that for every $1 billion invested in transportation, the multiplier effect on the local economy is two times. In addition, almost 47,000 jobs are created. “This bill is a quality-of-life issue, and it's a serious safety issue as well,” said Frist.
Finding money for the proposal will not be easy. House Democrats have pushed the idea of a fuel tax increase, but Bush and most Republicans have resisted it. The Senate's move may show a softening by some Republicans to a fuel tax increase on which both parties can agree.