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September 23, 2011 5:00 PM, EDT
House GOP Leaders May Allow Higher Transportation Spending, Mica Says
Move May Be Linked to Allowing Offshore Oil Drilling

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, confirmed Friday that the House Republican leadership agreed he can seek additional revenues for a transportation reauthorization bill — a move that would avoid a projected 30% cut in federal transportation spending.

The spending, however, may be linked to GOP demands that Democrats and the White House agree to open oil reserves, such as those offshore in Alaska, to drilling.

A transportation industry source told Transport Topics that Mica first announced that the leadership had given him permission to seek new revenue during a Thursday meeting with a group of transportation stakeholders.

The same source said that a Sept. 15 speech by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in Washington seems to have foreshadowed the GOP strategy on transportation spending.

 “I’m not opposed to responsible spending to repair and improve infrastructure,” Boehner said. “But if we want to do it in a way that truly supports long-term economic growth and job creation, let’s link the next highway bill to an expansion of American-made energy production.”

A second source, a staff member on the Transportation Committee, said that “House lawmakers will explore options going forward. A gas tax increase, however, remains off the table.”

Mica did not “assert” that oil drilling was linked to the additional transportation spending, the staffer said.

Earlier this year, the new Republican majority in the House adopted a rule that transportation spending would have to be confined to the approximately $35 billion a year that flows into the Highway Trust Fund from federal fuel taxes.

That would mean about a 30% reduction in current transportation funding which for years has been supplemented by the general fund.

Such a steep cut in spending would devastate the nation’s transportation system, highway and transit advocates said.