$17.6 billion ‘jobs bill’ passes Senate, transfers $19.5 billion into Highway Trust Fund
By Tina Grady Barbaccia, News and Digital Editor
The Highway Trust Fund will be solvent through the end of the year, but now the real fight begins to pass legislation for a multi-year transportation bill.
The Senate voted 68-34 on March 17 to pass H.R. 2847, the $17.6 billion “jobs bill” known as the HIRE Act, which extends the current surface transportation law until Dec. 31 and transfers $19.5 billion to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to ensure the fund’s solvency during the extension and restoring the rescission that occurred at the end of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act — A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).
The final vote occurred after a 63-34 vote supporting a motion to waive a budget point of order raised by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), according to a special Washington Watch report from the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA). At press time, the bill was just awaiting a signature from President Barack Obama.
The bill grew from $15 billion in the House to $17.6 billion after an expansion of the Build America Bonds financing.
Eleven Republicans (Lamar Alexander, Tenn.; Kit Bond, Mo.; Scott Brown, Mass; Richard Burr, N.C.; Thad Cochran, Miss.; Susan Collins, Maine; Jim Inhofe, Okla.; George LeMieux, Fla.; Lisa Murkowski, Alaska; Olympia Snowe, Maine; and George Voinovich, Ohio) voted to pass the bill, while Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska opposed it, according to the NSSGA report.
This solves the problem in the short-term, but now Congress must work on a six-year surface transportation reauthorization. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has called for a six-year, half-billion-dollar bill. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said March 15 that a six-year bill is on the White House’s radar, NSSGA notes.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee continued its series of transportation hearings on March 18, when members heard from witnesses on rural and urban mobility, NSSGA says.
However, NSSGA points out that finding the funds to pay for a $400 billion to $500 billion bill will be difficult. LaHood said that President Obama wants a bill that is bipartisan and fully paid for, but the funds are not there. LaHood said that in the interim, the DOT will push Congress to create a $4 billion infrastructure bank that is included in the administration’s FY 2011 budget and, that the secretary said the department would be soliciting proposals for how to spend $1 billion in discretionary spending this fiscal year, according to NSSGA.
American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President and CEO Pete Ruane says that the jobs bill passed on March 17 will stabilize the federal highway and public transportation programs to help maximize employment and economic activity in the 2010 construction season.
“The bill also pays back to the trust fund interest earnings sacrificed in 1998, and ensures that future interest generated will be dedicated for transportation infrastructure improvements,” Ruane said in a written statement. “…it ends the practice of penalizing the trust fund for fuel tax exemptions granted to certain users — creating approximately $1.5 billion in additional revenue annually to support infrastructure investment.
“Today’s vote was a victory, but we must keep our eye on the larger objective: passage this year of a robust, multi-year highway and transit authorization bill,” Ruane continued.
Peter Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), says “amidst the political games and wild pitches being thrown on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, there were three “important, but overlooked victories” on the transportation front contained in the new jobs bill.”
• The legislation pays back the Highway Trust Fund or almost 20 billion dollars in lost interest earnings since 1998. Any future interest gains from the trust fund will also be dedicated to transportation improvements.
• The bill ends the practice of penalizing the Highway Trust Fund for certain motor fuel tax exemptions. The General Fund will now incur these costs, which is expected to generate $1.5 billion in new annual trust fund revenue.
• It authorizes the highway and transit programs through Dec. 31, which will stabilize the transportation construction market for the rest of 2010.
“The focus now returns to the real issue: passage of a long-term surface transportation bill,” says Pete Ruane in a written statement. “…we will continue to ‘fight-the fight’….”
USGS: U.S. minerals sector DECLINED in 2009
The value of U.S. mineral production significantly declined in 2009, according to the recently released report, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2010, from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
The value of raw, non-fuel minerals mined in the United States was $57.1 billion in 2009, a decline of 20 percent during the past year, according to USGS. The value of materials domestically processed and refined from these raw minerals was $454 billion in 2009, a 25-percent decline from that of 2008, the government agency reports.
Also during the past year, USGS says that U.S. dependence on foreign sources for minerals has increased, continuing a trend that has been evident for more than 30 years. The United States relied on foreign sources to supply more than 50 percent of domestic consumption of 38 mineral commodities in 2009, and was 100-percent reliant on imports for 19 of those, according to USGS.
Minerals are a fundamental component to the U.S. economy, the government agency says, which is significant to note in today’s tumultuous economic environment. Final products, such as cars and houses, produced by major U.S. industries using mineral materials, composed about 13 percent (more than $1.9 trillion) of the 2009 gross domestic product.
“Over the last year, there has been reduced production of almost every mineral commodity and lower prices for most metals,” said USGS Mineral Resources Program Coordinator Kathleen Johnson in a written statement. “This report allows for timely research and analysis of our nation’s minerals sector.”
The USGS report “Mineral Commodity Summaries 2010” is available at http://www.minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs.
EXPLOSIVE archaeology findings
If only Fred Flintstone knew that the Paleolithic Era would be so exciting for future generations. The aggregates industry is accustomed to using explosives to extract what it needs: rock. But when scientists and researchers use them, it’s a bit more exciting.
Scientists in Utah experienced a bit of this excitement after exhausting various methods — including the use of concrete saws and jackhammers — of unsuccessfully extracting dinosaur bones from a quarry. That’s when researchers turned to explosives. For three days, teams detonated explosions to loosen the rock without damaging the fossils, the Los Angeles Times reported.
According to a Discovery.com report, researchers in Utah excavated two complete and two partial skulls of a dinosaur known as Abydosaurus mcintoshi, a 105-million-year-old sauropod, which the scientists think might have descended from the brachiosaurus family.
“It is amazing,” says paleontologist Brooks Britt of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, according to a Feb. 23 USA Today online report. “You can hold the skull in your hands and look into the eyes of something that lived a very long time ago.”
The dinosaur fossils — more than 100 million years old — were discovered at Dinosaur National Monument, a park in Colorado and Utah. The quarry was discovered in the 1970s, but wasn’t excavated until the early 1990s, according to the Discovery report. However, the skulls weren’t found until 2005, the Los Angeles Times noted.
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