Schock transportation bill may get bumpy
U.S. House Republicans' version of a transportation bill is slated to come to the floor in Congress for debate this week.
But the measure - one of the key funding components of which was crafted by U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria - still faces a few political hurdles, with several Illinois Republicans in Congress expressing qualms about it and a key statewide transportation group also suggesting changes are needed.
"I have reservations over the current form of this legislation and what it would mean for the future of Illinois' infrastructure," U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, said last week.
He currently represents part of eastern Woodford County. "At this time it is my understanding that this bill will be brought to the U.S. House floor in a manner which allows amendments to be made in order, so the look of the final legislation is yet to be determined."
None of the major concerns locally have to do with Schock's funding proposal to boost available infrastructure funds through the sale of oil and natural gas drilling leases. But how that money is allocated is.
In short, said Doug Whitley, co-chairman of the Transportation for Illinois Coalition and head of the state Chamber of Commerce, mass-transit groups are bothered by a provision that would fund rail and bus programs from a different pool of cash than in the past. That pool would be subject to separate congressional appropriations - and perhaps more subject to cuts that way - rather than coming out of the highway trust fund, which is funded by the gas tax individual drivers pay.
"An alarm bell went out for the transit world because they're used to having a guaranteed claim," Whitley said. "The transit people feel that's not a good trade" even though they would ostensibly have a bigger pot of money to draw from than before.
"To pass a bill, you don't want to have a big 11th hour surprise like this," he said, and his organization has expressed his concern, as have several GOP lawmakers representing suburban Chicagoland and portions of downstate Illinois.
Because of that, TFIC isn't giving up on the measure "because there's still time to fix it," Whitley said. "I know that some Republican members are soft on the bill right now. By having soft members . . . the expectations are that the leadership would accommodate some of those concerns."
Politically, the GOP also could have been a little more savvy about the bill's introduction, Whitley said, noting that "the Republican leadership sprung the bill . . . without a lot of advance information" available for backers. Moreover, "the Democrats were not brought along with the process in a way that they were comfortable and could embrace it as a bipartisan measure."
That said, he did say the bill had many good provisions, including being a multi-year piece of legislation - providing certainty for the construction industry - and does not cut funding as severely as other measures that have been proposed. The inclusion of a streamlining process for permitting in some cases could also speed up some projects, Whitley said, getting some of them beyond the drawing board more quickly than the sometimes 15-year time frames that are sometimes seen.
"That's an actual dollar savings," he said.