A Congressman’s Stance on Transportation
Congressman James Lankford (R) has many issues that draw his attention: holding down spending, opening up areas for drilling, and repealing President Obama’s health care plan. His public efforts, though, seem to be devoted to transportation. Lankford sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and back in April proposed legislation stripping federal control from spending in states.
“When people in Washington, D.C. thinks the roads in Oklahoma and the roads in Oregon and the roads in Hawaii are the same, we have a problem. They’re not the same,” said Rep. Lankford.
Lankford’s been on this crusade for a while. Back in February 2011, he was quoted at a town hall saying that the federal government shouldn’t be dictating how states spend their transportation money.
In March of this year, Lankford spoke at a forum hosted by the National Journal.
“How do we get more flexibility to the states? How do we allow the local leaders to be able to make wise choices and not have to deal with some of the same things that are being piled on people again and again?” remarked Lankford.
Just last week, Lankford spoke at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, to a breakfast hosted by Restore T.R.U.S.T., an group advocating for fully funding transportation projects.
“Let just normal folks make the decisions and get it done,” said Lankford.
“9 times out of 10 folks are going to do the right thing and then for that ten percent when people may do something without integrity and may be violating the rule, bring down the law on them. But don’t punish the other 90%.”
Oklahoma’s freshman Representative is finding a strong base of support from local officials on the proposal. After all, it would make their jobs easier.
“It would allow the states to look at and see what things are really pertinent in the federal register and what things are not. What is not at issue here should be set aside,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Gary Ridley.
Ridley says federal oversight slows things down. He says there’s a bridge in Oklahoma that’s been tangled up in Washington for six years.
“Oh it’s a federal bureaucracy. We’re hung up right now with the Corps of Engineers because it’s over Corps land. At the end of the day, we’re going to build a bridge, nothings going to stop that from happening. But it’s all the layers you have to go through to get there,” said Ridley.
Jonathan Small, fiscal policy director for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said local lawmakers should have more control in every area, including transportation.
“That’s probably a misconception that you need the federal government. States are incubators of innovation that have for centuries now come up with ways to respond to problems,” said Small.
Beyond Oklahoma’s borders the enthusiasm for Rep. Lankford’s proposal isn’t such a sure thing. The bill has sat in a House subcommittee since mid April, and the Senate has sent similar legislation to a committee as well.
Make no mistake: it’s attracted strong Republican support. But only one Democrat, fellow Oklahoman Rep. Dan Boren (D) has signed on a co-sponsor.
Phineas Baxandall, policy analyst with the United States Public Interest Research Group crystallizes the criticism coming from the other side.
“Letting particular states opt out would be like letting states opt out of the military system. It’s something where transportation is a national issue,” said Blaxandell.
Congressman Lankford’s collected an overwhelming majority of support from the state on his transportation proposal. But until he reaches for Democrat’s votes, it may never see the House floor.
“I don’t find the people in D.C. to be particularly smarter than they are in Oklahoma City, they’re just people. And I don’t have any great assumption that the people in D.C. love Oklahoma more than Oklahomans love Oklahoma.”
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