Congressman Faleomavaega today announced that the House, by a vote of 373 Yeas to 52 Nays, approved the final agreement by the Conference Committee on H.R. 4348, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012. The agreement, reached by a Committee made up of members from both the House and Senate, would extend authorizations of several federal highway programs, including the Territorial and Puerto Rico Highway Program, for FY 2013 and FY 2014. Following House approval, it was later passed by the Senate by a vote of 74 Yeas to 19 Nays.
The full text of Faleomavaega’s statement submitted during the Floor debate is inserted below.
The Conference Agreement on H.R. 4348, Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 unfairly places the financial burden on the smaller territories – American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Island (USVI). Specifically, the agreement would result in a 20-percent reduction for each of the smaller territories under the Territorial and Puerto Rico Highway Program (Div A, Title 1, Subtitle A, Section 1114) for FY 2013 and FY 2014.
The Territorial Highway Program underscores federal commitments to sustain economic development in the territories as well as to ensure safe highways in our communities. Funding from the territorial highway program has provided for the construction and improvement of highways and roads, critical infrastructure for commerce and transportation in the territories.
Mr. Speaker, any cuts to these critical funding could prove devastating to the economies of the smaller territories, yet we face the same challenges – the high cost of energy and transportation – as everyone else across the country.
Similarly, the initial version of the Highway Reauthorization bill that the House passed earlier this year would have replaced the Highway Trust Fund as the funding source for the Territorial Highway Program, with a less stable source.
For these reasons, the territorial delegates wrote a joint letter to the Conference Committee on April 26, 2012. We specifically highlighted the need to maintain the current funding levels for the territorial program. In addition, we asked that the territories be made eligible for certain discretionary grants and planning grants programs.
I am pleased that the conference agreement would keep the Highway Trust Fund as the funding source for the Territorial Highway Program. While I am disappointed to know that the smaller territories are given the brunt of the budgetary cuts to bear, I am hopeful however that the territories would be made eligible for certain discretionary grants and planning grants programs as we requested. These additional grants could help mitigate some of the financial issues as a result of the proposed reduction.
Faleomavaega later added, “While I am disappointed that our allocation will be reduced 20-percent from $5 million in past years to $4 million each for FY 2013 and FY 2014, I am pleased nevertheless that these programs will continue to be funded from the Highway Trust Fund.”
“It is important to be mindful of the fact that the Highway Trust Fund is paid for by a federal excise gasoline tax. The gasoline tax, which is currently about 18.4 cents per gallon, is imposed in all States and not in the Territories. Therefore, while our people do not pay into the Highway Trust Fund, we continue to receive funding under the Territorial Highway Program consistent with the Federal government’s commitment to the Territory,” Faleomavaega added.
“As the Highway Reauthorization bill is now on its way to the President for final approval, I am hopeful that the Territorial Highway Program will continue to help advance economic development and ensure safe transportation in American Samoa” Faleomavaega concluded.