Who says Sen. Jim Inhofe can’t work with Democrats in Congress? Inhofe, R-Tulsa, has certainly earned his reputation as one of the Senate’s most conservative members and is never shy about needling liberals, but he found common ground with one of that group’s leaders in forging a reasonable federal highway bill.
Inhofe and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who agree on very little when it comes to policy, worked to produce an agreement that will essentially keep funding at current levels for the next two years. That alone is an improvement over the repeated 90-day extensions of the current bill that have been used for the past two years, which make it difficult for states to plan and carry out highway projects.
Inhofe says Oklahoma will continue to get about $600 million per year and will still get back more money than it pays in federal gas taxes. For many years Oklahoma was a “donor state,” sending more gas tax revenue to Washington than it got back in highway funding.
This bill also does other important things. It will allow states to determine their highest priorities instead of Washington doing so, and cuts in half the time needed for environmental review of projects (now 15 years). It also reduces by two-thirds the number of transportation projects covered by the bill. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, one of the House negotiators, is among those who have complained about the many non-highway related programs covered in the existing bill.
This agreement also showed that compromise is still possible in Washington. Republicans dropped their demand that it include a provision requiring that the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline be built, and Democrats agreed to make the environmental review process less of a hassle.
It isn’t perfect, but a federal bill that cuts red tape and gives states a little more latitude is worth cheering.