New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called President Barack Obama’s $80 billion proposal to almost double highway spending “the ideal reference point for this debate,” saying that America’s mayors would “push for the highest number attainable.”
During a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Monday, mayors from some of America’s largest cities “announced plans to descend on Washington on May 11, along with business, labor, and religious leaders, to lobby for more funding,” the New York Daily News reports.
The federal government currently spends about $50 billion a year on transportation, a figure Obama has proposed raising to $80 billion, but according to MassLive, “Congress has been unable to agree on a permanent way of paying for transportation” since 2008, when spending began to exceed revenues from gas and vehicle taxes.
“The failure to invest in transportation, the failure to invest in infrastructure, is holding us back,” de Blasio asserted at a subsequent press conference, adding, “If we don’t do it, we should not be surprised that we keep falling behind.” (RELATED: Mike Lee Would Send Highway Funds to the States)
The mayors of Seattle, Baltimore, and Minneapolis elaborated on de Blasio’s comments, noting that, “flat federal funding over the last 13 years has left them with crumbling roads and bridges, over-stuffed commuter trains, and in some cases more deadly problems like bridge collapses.”
De Blasio was coy about the exact level of funding the mayors would like, saying only that they would “push for the highest number attainable.”
The mayors claimed that aging infrastructure, overcrowding, and severe weather all contribute to impose large and growing costs on states and cities, necessitating federal assistance. (RELATED: Repatriation Holiday Won’t Fix Highway Funding Shortfall, Critics Say)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, for instance, noted that his city’s mass transit system has still not fully recovered from record snowfall this winter, saying, “What’s happening here in the city of Boston … it can’t be saved by the legislature, can’t be saved by the cities, but it has to be a federal fix.”
“We all know what’s happening to our streets,” de Blasio added, saying the inability to maintain or upgrade infrastructure “means we can’t continue to grow the way we need to.”
The mayors offered a variety of suggestions for how the plan could be paid for — both with and without a gas tax increase — but Lawrence, Mass. Mayor Daniel Rivera adopted a different approach entirely. (RELATED: Do Low Oil Prices Justify Raising the Gas Tax)
Rivera argued that, “We shouldn’t have conversations about how we’re going to pay for bridges, for roads, for the heart of our commerce,” and should simply fund them from general tax revenues. “That should be a non-political conversation, the same as we go through when we talk about tanks,” he said.
Editor’s Note: An earlier copy of this article said U.S. mayors “aren’t satisfied” with the president’s proposed $80 billion budget. This article has been updated to make clear that de Blasio thinks the president’s proposal is a good reference point for the spending debate.
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