Bush Transpo Secretary’s Biggest Disappointment: Bush

DC Velocity magazine has just released a lengthy interview with Norman Mineta, the Bush-era transportation secretary and former Democratic member of Congress.

min0_011.jpgFormer U.S. DOT chief Mineta (r.), with his biggest disappointment. (Photo: Academy of Achievement)

In the interview, Mineta — who now works on infrastructure at the consulting firm Hill & Knowlton — spoke openly about the transportation funding crisis and called for the Obama administration to reconsider its opposition to a VMT tax:

I think the "Vehicle Miles Traveled" program ought to be seriously
considered. Even if you go to a VMT, you still have some form of tax.
But the beauty of the VMT approach is that all you look at is how many
miles you travel on the highway. It captures activity regardless of
energy source.

Mineta also showed refreshing candor in describing his biggest disappointment during five years at the Bush White House: the former president’s staunch refusal to reform the gas tax. Mineta explained that he planned in 2001 to pay for a $330 billion federal transportation bill increase gas taxes by 2 cents per gallon in the first, third and fifth years of the six-year legislation. But here’s what happened, per Mineta:

We went to the Oval Office, and after we went through the entire
presentation, President Bush takes a marker, circles the gas tax
increases, and says, "Norm, I don’t want any of those tax increases.
Get those out."

So Mineta pared his proposal back, suggesting merely to index the gas tax to inflation — which has already worked for six state governments and could soon become law in Bush’s home state of Texas. But alas, Bush couldn’t let go of his fondness for running deficits in the name of "fiscal conservatism":

We returned to the Oval Office, went through the presentation, and
afterward President Bush said, "Norm, that’s a tax increase. Get that
out." So I then took all the unobligated surplus, left $1 billion in
the highway trust fund, and used the balance to build a $267 billion
surface transportation program that Congress finally passed in 2005.
Not long after, the administration asked for an $8 billion infusion of
general funds into the highway trust fund so it wouldn’t be running a
deficit by 2007.

  • That guy was a disappointment, not much better than Peters. Pretty sad when “Democrat” Mineta was status quo all the way, and now we have “Republican” LaHood shaking things up left and right.

  • Cap’n Transit: agreed, but speaking from experience, if your boss is always shooting down your ideas, there’s not much you can do about it. I think the difference between Mineta and LaHood’s performance lies more with their bosses’ agendas than anything else.

  • Well, yeah, but “liberal” Mineta was willing to take the job and build his career around Bush’s debt-financed highway expansion agenda rather than going back to work in the private sector or running for Congress again.

  • Mike

    It is not a Bush, Clinton, Obama problem. They don’t get a vote, a veto yes but CONgress can pass it anyway. Maybe we should look a little further back?

    MARCH 21, 1996 – Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

    BUD SHUSTER, Pennsylvania, Chairman: …”has resulted in excessive cash balances being built into the transportation trust funds.”

    ” if these budgets submitted by the President were to pass, will grow from $30 billion today to $77 billion in the year 2002.”

    Mr. OBERSTAR: “There are $30 billion of trust fund revenues that haven’t been spent.”
    “They are a special, unique compact between the American people and their government that, in exchange for a tax dedicated to a special purpose, those funds will be used for that special purpose.”

    Mr. SCHENENDORF [ CHIEF OF STAFF, COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES :
    “…most budgets over the past 25 years, whether Executive or Legislative, whether republican or democrat, have funded transportation programs at levels below what the trust funds can support. The result has been the buildup of cash balances which today total approximately $30 billion…

    JULY 27, 2000 – COMMITTEE ON THE BUDGET HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

    JOHN R. KASICH, Ohio : “I can tell you that in the transportation trust fund, we, in fact, did write off bonds that were deposited. We did not honor them in the agreement we did on the transportation bill. We, in fact, cancelled out IOUs to the Government.”

    Cancelled those “full faith and credit bonds” like those in the Social Security “trust fund”???

    July 23, 2008 – H.R. 6532 – AMENDING THE INTERNAL REVENUE CODE OF 1986 TO RESTORE THE HIGHWAY TRUST FUND BALANCE

    Mr. OBERSTAR :””As part of the agreement worked out by then chairman of our committee, Bud Shuster, with House Republican leadership, the Speaker, the Appropriations Committee, the Budget Committee, and on our side with the Clinton administration, we agreed to give up $29 billion of surplus in the highway trust fund for long-term debt reduction and short-term deficit reduction, and also to give up interest paid on revenues deposited in the highway trust fund from the collections every 3 months–as is the practice–it would give that interest up as well. Eight billion dollars was transferred to make the deficit look smaller, and the rest went to long-term debt reduction.”

    Mr Shays : ” I was part of balancing the federal budget in 1997. I was on the Budget Committee for 10 years. And it is a fact. We took $29 billion to help balance the budget. It came from the Highway Trust Fund.
    “The Mianus bridge in Connecticut collapsed down and three people died.”

    So we all pay fuel taxes thinking we are supporting highways and bridges. CONgress underfunds those same projects creating a huge surplus in the so called “trust fund”.

    Then to help create a fiction that we have a balanced budget or even a surplus (1997) cancel the ammount earmarked for highways and remove the so called interest paid on any future surplus.

    Yeah, lets raise taxes so they can do it again – once is never enough.

  • FYI, Hill & Knowlton is a PR firm (Mr. Mineta’s new employer, paragraph 2), working on all kinds of issues to lie to people and sell crap.

    Mr Mineta’s new gig might be related to their work on “Automotive: Providing a tailored approach in a diversifying marketplace” (http://www.hillandknowlton.com/sectors/automotive) – Looking through their website, I did not find an “Infrastructure” sector, though perhaps he is working on “Energy, Power and Utilities” and “Building reputation in an industry under global scrutiny” (http://www.hillandknowlton.com/sectors/energy).

    Calling Hill & Knowlton a “consulting firm” in the context of a story about transportation gives the erroneous impression that Mr. Mineta is engaged by a firm with expertise in transportation planning, design or engineering instead of what he is actually doing: trading his Washington connections and legislative experience to further the same old corporate and anti-human agenda that makes nice short-term money.

    And, the mention on Streetsblog helps to rehabilitate Mr. Mineta’s reputation and also counts as a nice placement.

    Regards.

  • “Mineta also showed refreshing candor in describing his biggest disappointment during five years at the Bush White House: the former president’s staunch refusal to reform the gas tax.”

    Well, so far Obama has taken the same, staunch course…of course, it’s early, but I don’t see him changing….does anyone? The biggest problem in transportation, IMO, is the pricing structure, and when the fed’ gas tax hasn’t increased since 1993, how can progress be made?

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