OLEAN — U.S. Rep. Tom Reed said Thursday he remains frustrated with the lack of progress on extending the Route 219 expressway through Cattaraugus County.
The 28-mile project that would link up Route 219 with Interstate 86 near Salamanca remains his No. 1 infrastructure priority, Rep. Reed, R-Corning, said during a meeting with the Olean Times Herald editorial board.
The congressman said funding remains among the major obstacles to completion of the expressway, which two years ago crossed into Cattaraugus County just south of Springville.
New York state has refused to fund $7 million in new environmental studies that will be needed before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Highway Administration can give their approval.
An agreement with the Seneca Nation of Indians to cross a portion of the Allegany Territory east of Salamanca will also be needed, Rep. Reed noted. He has acted as an intermediary between the Seneca Nation and the state officials in the past over Interstate 86. “They are partners (with the state) in the region,” Rep. Reed said. “We need each other.”
Even after the Route 219 corridor is identified, it would be competing for funding with hundreds of other federal infrastructure projects, at a time when the Highway Trust Fund is close to running out of money. Rep. Reed said he is opposed to raising the gas tax to further fund the Highway Trust Fund, but would support other revenues including repatriated U.S. corporate taxes from overseas, and a fee on natural gas exports.
Continued federal funding for the West Valley Demonstration Project cleanup is another local project he is committed to, Rep. Reed said.
The recent push by Burger King to buy Tim Horton’s and move the combined headquarters to Canada to escape higher U.S. taxes is another example of the need to change the U.S. tax code, Rep. Reed said. The last major change was in 1986. The current tax code is “creating a perverse incentive (for companies) to go overseas,” he said. “We should get together and fix the tax code.” He is a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Rep. Reed said he favored the approach Way and Means Committee Chairman David Camp proposed earlier this year on changes in the tax code that would have netted the average Southern Tier resident $600 a year.
Could the Burger King acquisition of Tim Horton’s be a catalyst for a change in the tax code? “It could,” he replied. He said it’s not a question of U.S. companies’ “patriotism,” as President Obama asserted last week, but “a question of survivability.”
Rep. Reed noted that it was expanded production of oil and gas in the U.S. that was responsible for tempering the cost of crude oil during the current Mideast crisis. The new oil and gas produced here will help fuel a manufacturing renaissance, he said. The Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (RAMI), cosponsored by Rep. Reed and Rep. Joseph Kennedy, D-Mass., is moving through the legislative process with a nod from President Obama, he noted.
On other matters addressed in the editorial board meeting, Rep. Reed said:
• Small businesses are key to the economic recovery of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes areas of the 23rd Congressional District.
• Social Security and Medicare will run out of money unless the programs are reformed. “The sooner we deal with the problem, the better,” he said.
Social Security Disability will run out of funds in January 2016, at which time funds will be borrowed from the main Social Security fund, he said, noting he would not vote to change benefits for current recipients, or for those about to retire. The Social Security fund has enough money to run through 2032, he said.
• The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, “is a failed solution to spiraling health care costs” and has led to canceled insurance policies and lost jobs. Rep. Reed said he favors reforms that would keep the ban on blocking insurance coverage of those with pre-existing conditions and parents retaining children on their policies to age 26, but said they come at a cost.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)