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ARRA Newsletter - May 2009

When we do, we all come out ahead.  You can find this useful document on the ARRA website:  http://www.arra-access.com/ct/idzUY2915SH6/ 

Recreational Trails Programs
It's "start your engines" time with the congressional efforts to renew, reinvigorate and reauthorize the surface transportation act, the vehicle that authorizes and funds highway construction as well as the very successful Recreational Trails Program (RTP). The Coalition for Recreational Trails, the umbrella organization to promote RTP, comprised of a wide range of motorized and non-motorized trail organizations, has forwarded to the Congress its recommendations for adjustments/improvements to the Recreational Trails Program. If you would like to take a look at those recommendations visit:  http://www.arra-access.com/ct/i1zUY2915SHb/

While the engines of change have started to warm up, it will be a long legislative haul for the surface transportation act. The process is beginning in the House of Representatives, but there are many challenges ahead as funding shortfalls threaten the viability of the Highway Trust Fund. A series of factors have contributed to this financial strain, including the decline of revenue from the tax on gas sold. Earlier this year, rising fuel prices discouraged people from driving, and now with the general economic decline in the country, people are parking their cars rather than taking leisurely trips. Fewer gallons of gas sold simply equals less tax revenue for the Highway Trust Fund. Fewer dollars coupled with higher highway construction costs means less construction can occur at a time when our national highway infrastructure is in a greater need of repair.

Various ideas to generate new revenue for the Highway Trust Fund are being explored. These proposals range from increasing the federal excise tax charged for each gallon of gasoline sold to instituting a new form of tax that would charge consumers for each mile driven. This new tax scheme is called vehicle-miles-traveled, or VMT. VMT would require the installation of a special computer on your vehicle that would electronically notify taxation authorities of the number of miles you have driven. (Maybe George Orwell was right about Big Brother watching us).

Some policymakers have suggested that consumers might be charged an average of 2 cents per mile driven. To date the Obama White House has expressed severe reservations about embracing VMT, but it should be noted that the new Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, indicated that he thought the time will come when VMT will be the revenue raiser of choice.

It's hard to know where all of this will go or even the fate of the Recreational Trails Program. We need to be actively involved throughout the process because until new revenue sources are found, pressure will be to cut and or drop existing programs under the auspices of the surface transportation act. ARRA will keep you posted of further developments.

Manhattan Knows Best?
I grew up in a small farming community in Ohio. In my town, the Saturday morning traffic jams on Main Street were caused by farmers waiting in line to deliver their crops to the local grain elevator. Being from a small town, we were somewhat intimidated by the big city folks because they always acted as though they knew best. When I went to a big city (Washington) to go to college, I found out that this wasn't the case. My fellow students from the Big Apple acted as though they owned the world, but I soon realized their attitude was merely a defense mechanism to ward off the unknowns of attending college. In other words, they were just as scared about attending college as I was, but they were better at pretending that they knew what was best for the rest of us.

So, from experience, I am a natural skeptic when it comes to big city solutions. This is especially the case when I think about the far reaching ramifications of H. R. 980, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, introduced in the 111th Congress by Representative Carolyn B. Maloney. Rep. Maloney  represents Manhattan in the U. S. Congress, and I don't mean Manhattan, Kansas. I mean Manhattan, as in New York City.

Rep. Maloney's legislation would create massive "biological connecting corridors" throughout five western states (Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming), requiring approximately 23 million acres of land to be placed into new wilderness designated areas. The scope of this bill is so overwhelming that it is impossible to comprehend. Rep. Maloney's legislation has 71 cosponsors, and most reside east of the Mississippi. There is nothing in this bill that has anything to do with Manhattan, including Central Park, but somehow, the Congresswoman from New York seems to think she knows what is best for those five western states.

On May 5th, the House Resources Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands will hold a public hearing on this legislation. I testified against a similar measure back in 2007. It was bad legislation then, and nothing has changed. To a certain degree, it is a waste of taxpayer's money to hold another hearing on the bill, but in light of more pressing matters, such as a declining economy and the threat of swine flu, I am half amused by the audacity of the proponents of this measure.

So, the hearing will be held. Testimony will be given. Members will listen intently, and I hope little else will happen. And that, my friends, would be a good thing. But, first we will need to oppose this legislation and with your help, we will succeed. If you are interested in lending a hand, visit our action campaign page at http://www.arra-access.com/ct/i7zUY2915SHO/.


Larry E. Smith
Executive Director
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access

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