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What Would Happen If Washington Cuts Transpo Funding 35 Percent?

The Republicans have retreated from their insistence on cutting transportation spending by 35 percent to match Highway Trust Fund revenues -- for now. But the problem is far from solved. As a reminder of the dangers such a policy presents, the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Eno Center for Transportation put out a new report yesterday on the potential consequences of a 35 percent cut in transportation spending.

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The report, The Consequences of Reduced Federal Transportation Investment, follows up another report BPC released in June 2011, called Performance Driven, which argued that if funding is reduced, major policy reforms have to accompany the cut in order to maintain the best of the transportation system, not the worst.

But is this still a conversation worth having? As Republican Transportation Committee staffer Jim Tymon said plainly at yesterday’s report release, “There was an attempt to move in that direction, and there wasn’t the political will to do that.”

Indeed, the conversation quickly morphed into a discussion about the gas tax. After all, if no one wants to cut spending, the other side of the coin is to raise revenues. But, as Tymon reminded the audience: “There isn’t the political appetite to raise gas tax.”

That’s pretty much where federal policy has been stuck for the last three years, since the rejection of Rep. Jim Oberstar’s ambitious, six-year, $500 billion proposal.

One audience member noted yesterday, “We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a political problem.” Rather than seize the opportunity with MAP-21 to address the revenue question, Congress and the Obama administration punted. And addressing the revenue issue is a prerequisite for implementing other major changes to federal policy: As Shin-pei Tsay of the Carnegie Endowment said, “We’re not going to come around to the policy reform unless we really deal with the funding issue.”

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