—BikePortland’s coverage from Washington D.C. is made possible by Planet Bike.
Amid the backdrop of renewed optimism that a new transportation bill is coming sooner than later, Congressman Earl Blumenauer headlined the opening plenary at the first full day of the National Bike Summit. Blumenauer used the occasion to urge the 700-plus advocates to help him push a gas tax increase as a way to steer the federal government away from the impending cliff transportation funding is heading off.
It’s the first time in 21 years, Blumenauer said, that he’s stumping around the country for a gas tax increase. Why? Because the doomsday scenario of the Highway Trust Fund drying up are becoming very real, very fast.
“The Highway Trust Fund is going broke faster than we thought.”
— Andy Clarke, League of American Bicyclists
In his introduction of Rep. Blumenauer, League President Andy Clarke said, “The Highway Trust Fund is going broke faster than we thought.” And Blumenauer backed up that insight with his take on the current reality: “We’ve run the Trust Fund down to zero this year, and unless something is done, by October 1st, there will be no resources.” Blumenauer said state DOTs will start pulling back funding before October. “You’ll start seeing it this summer, states will start holding back contracts.”
Because of this impending financial emergency, Blumenauer said “Something [with a new transportation bill] is very likely to happen.” Clarke agreed, saying that even though advocates have heard countless times in the past that a major transportation bill is imminent, “This times it’s different. Staff are writing bills, committees are meeting.”
This outlook is in stark contrast to Blumenauer’s tone at previous Summit, when partisan gridlock was at all-time highs. Today, he said, “There are some little tiny glimmers of hope.”
“I know some of you might be nervous bringing up such a controversial topic. But you just lost dedicated funding [in the last transportation bill], so what are you afraid is going to happen to you?”
— Rep. Blumenauer
With transportation proposals from President Obama and a Senate Ways and Means committee “DOA,” Blumenauer thinks the time is right to start start pushing for a gas tax increase. He recently shared his ideas on the subject at a Harvard Business School luncheon that featured Fortune 200 CEOs, the presidents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO, engineers, construction trade reps, and others. “Everyone was there supporting a gas tax increase.” It was a broad and powerful coalition that Blumenauer said was notably absent from the proposals announced by Obama and the Ways and Means Committee.
It was the first time in 21 years that Blumenauer presented a gas tax increase proposal.
So, Blumenauer asked the crowd, “Why is it that people are reluctant to talk about a gas tax increase?”
Blumenauer then urged the advocates to carry his message back to their communities and up to Capitol Hill during tomorrow’s Lobby Day. “I know some of you might be nervous bringing up such a controversial topic,” he added, “But you just lost dedicated funding [in the last transportation bill], so what are you afraid is going to happen to you?”
With a big coalition forming to influence the next transportation bill, Blumenauer said now is the time to start making allies. “If this is a food fight,” he warned, “Some of those coalition members are going to toss you under the bike. But if our agenda is working with them to achieve their ends, I think there’s an opportunity to get new allies.”
If bike advocates don’t act fast, Blumenauer said they risk becoming a “budget balancer”. “It’s said that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. It’s critical for you to be part of this conversation.”
As usual, Blumenauer’s speech infused the room with a sense of purpose and inspiration for that lies ahead. “America needs you to be successful. You have too much invested not to be part of that big picture. The message that you’ve been bringing to Capitol Hill year after year after year has lost none of its resonance. And indeed, is needed more now than ever.”
— See all our 2014 Bike Summit coverage here.