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Guest Editorial

Bush was right to tell Congress to settle its differences on highway funding

DON C. BRUNELL

While campaigning in Missouri-"The Show Me State"-President Bush called on Congress to show him a transportation funding bill he can sign.

Congress continues to wrangle over how much of our gas tax money to send back to the states to improve roads, bridges and transit systems. The process by which the money is allocated to the states is called TEA-21, which stands for Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.

A business-labor coalition called the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) wants Congress to shake loose $318 billion, but that number has now been whittled down to $299 billion. While $318 billion would have been better, $299 billion released now is better than the current "limbo status." Limbo translates into zero dollars.

This gas-tax money, which was collected at the pump, could help "prime the pump" in Washington. In fact, the TEA-21 money could jump start hundreds of transportation projects across the state - everything from widening roads to building pedestrian crossings and overpasses.

But the benefits don't stop there. Hundreds of high-paying construction jobs are tied to projects in Washington - projects that could begin if Congress released the TEA-21 funds. In fact, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation estimates that every billion spent on highways and transit investments creates 47,500 jobs.

Each day Congress fails to act costs you and me money. Across the nation, almost $7 trillion worth of goods and materials are transported each year from factories and farms to ports, retailers and customers. Each hour that those goods are stuck in traffic or delayed by bad roads increases the cost of doing business. In essence, the employers are paying salaries and overhead while their goods and employees sit sidelined by our inferior transportation system. That lost productivity results in higher prices and damages the ability of Washington businesses to compete across the country and around the world.

The bottom line is these taxes have already been collected, and they should be put to good use. It's time for Congress to stop squabbling and release the TEA-21 money so it can be invested in transportation improvements that will ease congestion, increase safety, improve our competitiveness and enhance our quality of life.

Don C. Brunell is President of the Association of Washington Business.

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