Hoffa: Transportation bill begins to loosen political gridlock
For more than a decade, Congress’s failure to approve a long-term transportation spending bill placed infrastructure improvements on the back burner in Michigan and all across the country. That ended last week, however, when members of the House and Senate united behind a five-year, $305 billion plan to pay for road, rail and mass transit upgrades.
At a time when Capitol Hill is mired in the mud and unable to come together on much of anything, a bipartisan collection of lawmakers saw the value in rebuilding America’s highway and rail networks after years of short-term fixes that hampered project planning. That is a win not only for commuters, but truckers and businesses as well. The economy will benefit from an improved flow of commerce.
Rep. Candice Miller, a Macomb County Republican who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the bill “will provide the stability and certainty states and local governments need to understand the large-scale, complex transportation projects that improve and restore our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.”
The measure provides a substantial bump in funding from what was included in an earlier House-passed version of the bill just last month. In addition, it protects motorist safety by rejecting Teamster-opposed provisions that would have removed the ability of the states to implement rest and meal breaks for truck drivers. The bill also wisely stuck with the House’s earlier decision to reject allowing up to 91,000 pound trucks on interstate highways.
Additionally, the transportation legislation substantially restricts participation in a pilot program designed to test the safety of teen drivers operating on interstate commerce to veterans and reservists only. It will also include a study of school bus fleet safety.
In an effort to spur action, the Teamsters in September introduced its “Let’s Get America Working” platform that called on Congress to come together and pass a long-term transportation spending bill among other things. It noted that transportation projects would put thousands to work in construction jobs across the country. This legislation is an important step towards that goal.
Since 2008, Congress has transferred more than $62 billion from the general fund to keep the Highway Trust Fund afloat, and it has been years since Congress has passed a highway bill more than two years in duration. Meanwhile, infrastructure continued to fail and the safety of those who are working and traveling along the vast system of U.S. roads and rails was being jeopardized.
The Teamsters will remain on guard for possible efforts to add policy changes in a massive year-end appropriations bill dealing with meal and rest breaks as well as efforts to allow longer double tractor-trailers on highways.
But make no mistake, Congress should be congratulated for this major accomplishment. Infrastructure investment provided an opportunity to break the political gridlock in Washington, and elected officials from both parties made the first move towards rebuilding the trust between government and workers.
They’ve decided to reinvest in people that have and can continue to make this country great. Better pay that comes from infrastructure jobs will lead to more spending and improve workers’ quality of life. That way everyone wins.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.