Victories for La in Federal Highway Bill

Education reform costly in court
July 3, 2012
Letter to editor: Coastal zone story misleading
July 3, 2012

It’s not every day that we get to cheer about major policy victories for Louisiana, but this is one of them. And it’s not just one victory – there are several.

In the Senate we passed legislation known as the Highway Bill, which is a great bipartisan jobs bill. It’s an infrastructure bill with zero earmarks!

I was fortunate to have a seat – the only Louisianan – at the table on the bipartisan conference committee to meld the House and Senate versions of the Highway Bill. As Louisiana’s only representative, I made the case for several major priorities for our state. And now that the conference report is complete, we have very good news for Louisiana, not just with support for Louisiana infrastructure projects, but we were able to include the Restore Act, a 5-year reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program and legislation supporting use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for maintenance and dredging.

The Gulf Coast Restore Act will dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines from the BP disaster to go towards Gulf Coast restoration. Louisiana will get more than any other state because we were hit the hardest – so that’s a big win, maybe the biggest, for the state. This is a huge step toward vital, long-overdue coastal restoration work along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and our neighboring states. The Restore language will go a long way in addressing the impacts of the environmental and economic damage from last year’s oil spill, and we think it’s more than fair to have 80 percent of the fines for this event dedicated for restoration along the Gulf Coast.

A full 5-year flood insurance reauthorization is also included. As ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee’s economic subcommittee with jurisdiction over NFIP, I worked closely with Senate leadership in both parties to get the reauthorization advanced through the Senate. The current Band-Aid approach to extending the National Flood Insurance Program for short periods of time has been damaging and confusing for both homeowners and the housing market. With a full 5-year reauthorization, Louisianans can finally have some peace of mind with safeguarding their homes.

In addition to all of those successes, Louisiana will see some real benefits to our infrastructure projects. The state is expected to receive more than $680 million per year in federal highway dollars which is a 102.14 percent rate of return on the amount of gas tax Louisianans send the federal government in a given year. States will also have more flexibility to spend state transportation dollars and build projects more efficiently through an expedited delivery process.

As Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I recognized that the old system for federal highway funding was broken. So we went to work, made reforms – including eliminating all earmarks – and produced a much more efficient bill. I’m also very pleased to get Louisiana’s rate of return on highway projects increased significantly. We were only getting 90.5 cents back for every dollar of state taxpayer money that was sent to the federal government. Now we’ll be getting $1.02 for every dollar. That is a huge jump.

I know it seems like we got a lot into one bill, but this is a really great outcome for Louisiana. Let’s call it highway bill lagniappe.