By Burgess Everett
House Republicans are reworking Speaker John Boehner’s signature energy-infrastructure package to lower the price tag, shorten the duration and eliminate a controversial provision on transit funding.
The bill has drawn criticism from transit advocates as well as fiscal conservatives, who have expressed concern that the existing $260 billion, five-year version wouldn’t cut enough from current spending and would diverge from the “user-pays” model that many on the right prefer. The White House has also threatens to veto the House proposal while expressing support for a competing $109 billion, two-year transportation bill in the Senate.
Last week, House leaders indefinitely postponed the bill during the Rules Committee process, after members had proposed hundreds of amendments.
GOP leaders will now seek to put together a more short-lived transportation bill and leave the task of securing a longer one to the next president and the next Congress, although House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) has repeatedly said he would like to see his bill go as long as six years.
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Meanwhile, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the senior Northeastern Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has said H.R. 7 “presents a catastrophic prospect for every city and commuter suburb in our nation.”
“To eliminate transit’s dedicated funding stream and relegate funding to the political machinations of the appropriations process is, effectively, to kill transit funding,” he said. “In 1982, President Reagan raised the gas tax and added mass transit to the Highway Trust Fund. He certainly believed that mass transit deserved stable funding. It has worked well for the last three decades, and there is no reason to change it now.”
The American Public Transportation Association and its CEO Michael Melaniphy supports the bipartisan amendment that would restore the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund and the 2.86 cents of motor fuels excise tax revenues currently dedicated to public transportation programs.
“It would eliminate the proposed Alternative Transportation Account, and provide for the trust fund to continue to invest in both highways and public transportation, Melaniphy said.”
Melaniphy says this makes it virtually impossible for public transit agencies to develop reliable long-term capital plans, and it could leave the future of the public transit program in peril and it would also stifle American job and economic growth.
Melaniphy added that the APTA agrees with both the Republicans and Democrats who are offering the amendment, calling it a simple common sense measure to ensure and restore the proper investment in public transit.