Update on Transportation Reauthorization

June 1, 2012

After weeks of optimism by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer that a conference agreement on a long-term transportation bill is within reach, some troubling signs are now emerging that negotiations are not going well and that lawmakers are unlikely to reach agreement by the June 30 deadline.

First, there was news late last week that Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) plans to seek a vote instructing House conferees to limit transportation spending only to the funding available in the Highway Trust Fund.  This motion would reduce transportation funding by at least 34 percent, similar to the House budget resolution and a long-standing tenet of the House majority. The motion would conflict with the Senate's MAP-21, which would fund transportation programs for two years at $109 billion, requiring a transfer of general revenues to supplement federal fuel taxes. A vote is expected on Tuesday.

In recent weeks, House members have submitted resolutions insisting that the House stand by its positions on the transportation conference-whether or not they have been passed by the House.

Another sign of the failing negotiations: last week House Majority Leader Eric Cantor released his list of legislation on the agenda for this summer, which did not include the transportation bill. This indicates that another extension appears likely when the transportation bill expires at the end of the month.


May 24, 2012

A nearly 50-member House and Senate Conference Committee continues to work to try to iron out differences on a two-year surface transportation bill before the current extension expires on June 30. Organized into 10 working groups, Committee members are charged with finding middle ground between the Senate-passed bill, MAP-21 (S. 1813) and a House-passed measure that extends the current program through September 30.

NLC continues to track the progress of the Committee and its working groups and voices its support for the following provisions in any new authorization program:

  • NLC supports the Senate's bipartisan, fully funded approach.

 

  • NLC believes that the current law on Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) and Equitable Funding Distribution should be maintained. Current law stipulates a threshold of 50,000 in population for remaining an MPO and allows fast-growing communities to form an MPO.  Population requirements in MAP-21 would make it more difficult for local officials to participate in key transportation decision-making. 
  • NLC supports the Senate provision on environmental streamlining, which would consolidate the lengthy review process without undermining local control.  This would allow the public and local officials a meaningful voice on projects that impact their communities. The House bill would restrict the ability of local officials to participate in the process on decisions critical to their communities.
  • NLC supports Senate language on Additional Activities, including an important provision under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program that provides eligibility for environmental mitigation, Safe Routes to School and other alternative transportation options supporting cycling and pedestrians, which have become a key part of local congestion management plans. These programs are very important to metropolitan area transportation and community development programs.
  • NLC calls for an off-system bridge set-aside for local bridges. NLC supports the MAP-21 provision that would allocate a portion of the Highway Bridge Program (HBP) to assist with the repair, maintenance and rehabilitation of local, non-federal-aid highway bridges. HBP funding is often the only source of maintenance for bridges in both urban and rural areas.
  • NLC supports the additional funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance Act (TIFIA) program. With limited federal dollars available to help local governments finance national transportation maintenance and improvement projects, the ability of TIFIA funds helps local government fund these projects key to economic development in our communities.
  • NLC supports the MAP-21 provision for a five-year exemption of the State Private Activity Bond Volume Cap for water and waste water projects
  • NLC supports the extension of employee transit benefits in MAP-21 to coincide for the parking benefit contained in current law.
  • Finally, NLC supports the distribution of funds to local governments impacted by the Gulf Oil Spill through the RESTORE Act.


May 8, 2012

This afternoon, a House/Senate panel will hold their first public meeting on the surface transportation authorization bill, however not much is expected to happen.

While the Senate passed a two-year bill, S. 1813 or MAP-21, that contained hundreds of pages of policy changes to current law, the House only passed a shell bill that extends current programs for 90 days-from June 30 to September 30.  Policy changes included in the House bill included approval of the Keystone pipeline and regulatory streamlining provisions which differ from the Senate.

Before lawmakers can move to negotiating the specifics outside those two issues-which will be very controversial themselves-they will need to agree on the scope of the actual conference committee.

Following is an explanation from Transportation Weekly:

...

Senate conferees are expected to insist on the narrow definition of the scope of the conference - the difference between the bill that the House actually passed (H.R. 4348) and the Senate amendment in the nature of a substitute (the text of the bill S. 1813 as passed by the Senate on March 14). This means that, except for the differing environmental streamlining portions of both bills (the 70 pages of title VI of H.R. 4348 and the 53 pages of subtitle C of title I of Division A of the Senate amendment), the scope of the conference, as far as surface transportation policy provisions go, is between the Senate amendment and existing law (titles 23 and 49, United States Code, as well as provisions of the SAFETEA-LU law).

House Republican conferees are expected to disagree and insist on a more expansive scope of the conference - saying that they are there to iron out differences between the 979-page Rules Committee Print of H.R. 7 and the 1,674-page Senate amendment, even though the House never actually passed H.R. 7

....

But in most previous instances where conference committees agreed to pretend that they were conferencing bills that did not actually pass one chamber or the other, the main reason that a chamber did not pass a real bill was because they simply ran out of time. In this case, the Speaker of the House has publicly admitted that a majority of the House would have voted "no" on final passage of H.R. 7, had that bill ever come up for a vote. (Speaker Boehner told reporters on April 18 that, "If I had my druthers, H.R. 7 would have been on the floor six weeks ago. But there weren't 218 votes to do this.") Boehner's unusual (and possibly unprecedented, in this context) statement undercuts the position that House conferees are expected to take (that the provisions of H.R. 7 should be considered to be the will of the House and that H.R. 7, not current law, should be the House position, even though the House never could muster the will to pass H.R. 7).

....

This conceptual disagreement-over whether the House position on most surface transportation provisions is H.R. 7, or existing law-prevents the staff of the various committees from doing what is always the first work assignment in any conference, preparing a "side-by-side" conference document that, both sides agree, shows the corresponding House and Senate positions next to each other. House Republican conferees want a document that shows every paragraph of H.R. 7 next to the corresponding paragraph of S. 1813 (where the bills have corresponding provisions). Senate conferees prefer a document that shows every paragraph of S. 1813 next to the corresponding paragraph of H.R. 4348, or where H.R. 4348 is silent, to existing law.

It is hard to imagine the conference committee making much progress in a public meeting when the two chambers cannot agree on whether they are there to compare apples and oranges, or to compare apples and potatoes.


April 27, 2012

After failing to find the votes to adopt a transportation bill, the House earlier this week passed a bill to extend current programs another 90 days beyond the current deadline of June 30. This bill also includes language that would mandate a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and creates a vehicle for the House to conference with the Senate. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a two-year $109 billion bill, known as MAP-21 and twice voted down the pipeline project.

The Senate Democratic conferees are: Barbara Boxer (CA), Richard Durbin (IL), Charles Schumer (NY), John Rockefeller (WV), Tim Johnson (SD), Bill Nelson (FL), and Robert Menendez (NJ). The Senate Republican conferees are: David Vitter (LA), Orrin Hatch (UT), Richard Shelby (AL), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), and John Hoeven (ND).

The House Democratic conferees are: Nick Rahall (WV), Peter DeFazio (OR), Jerry Costello (IL), Jerrold Nadler (NY), Corrine Brown (FL), Elijah Cummings (MD), Leonard Boswell (IA), Tim Bishop (NY), Henry Waxman (CA), Ed Markey (MA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Earl Blumenauer (OR) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC).

The House Republicans conferees are: John Mica (FL), Don Young (AK), John Duncan (TN), Bill Shuster (PA), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Rick Crawford (AR), Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA), Larry Buschon (IN), Richard Hanna (NY), Steve Southerland (FL), James Lankford (OK), Reid Ribble (WI), Fred Upton (MI), Ed Whitfield (KY), Doc Hastings (WA), Rob Bishop (UT), Ralph Hall (TX), Chip Cravaack (MN), Dave Camp (MI) and Patrick Tiberi (OH).

Transportation advocates are pessimistic that House and Senate conferees will be able to reach agreement on a long term bill, since the Senate is unlikely to agree to a bill with the Keystone in it, and the House is unlikely to accept a bill without it.


April 18, 2012

The House today, by a vote of 292-127, adopted yet another 90-day extension that would extend the current program through the end of the fiscal year-September 30th. Transportation leaders suggested that passage of the extension would allow for a conference with the Senate on its two-year bill, passed last month.

The extension adopted by the House was billed as a "clean" extension, although it includes three provisions that will make for a contentious conference with the Senate: approval of the Keystone pipeline, regulatory streamlining provisions contained in the original House bill (H.R. 7), and a provision that would ease Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal-fired power plants.


March 30, 2012

On Thursday, House members voted to adopt a 90-day extension of the current transportation program, SAFETEA-LU, after days of falling short of the votes needed to pass the bill under expedited rules that would have required a 60 percent vote.

In the Senate, after trying but failing to attach its own two-year transportation bill-Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (S. 1813), passed last week by a bipartisan majority- members voted to approve the House extension, the ninth since SAFETEA-LU expired in 2009. The White House signed the extension today in order to keep the programs running.

Partisan differences flared as lawmakers in both chambers rushed to extend transportation programs before the March 31 deadline. If an agreement had not been reached, the federal tax on gasoline would have expired, potentially costing $110 million per day in federal revenues for transportation programs, which are already falling far short of national transportation needs.

NLC continues to support passage of a long-term transportation bill that rebuilds America's roads and bridges, modernizes transit systems, and creates or saves good-paying jobs. We will continue to provide updates over the next three months as a new debate begins over reauthorization.


March 28, 2012

The House, by a vote of 266 to 158, passed a 90-day short-term transportation bill with days to spare before the March 31 deadline. Of note, the following Republican Representatives joined their Democratic counterparts and voted against the extension:

Justin Amash (MO)
John Campbell (CA)
Robert Dold (IL)
Jeff Flake (AZ)
John Fleming (LA)
JIm Jordan (OH)
Tom McClintock (CA)
Jean Schmidt (OH)
David Schweikert (AZ)
James Sensenbrenner (WI)

Prior to the vote, Democrats in both the House and Senate were pushing House members to support S. 1813, the Senate-passed, bipartisan two-year extension adopted last month.

NLC will post the full roll call shortly.


March 26, 2012

The House is expected to vote today on a three-month extension (the ninth since September 2009) of the current transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU. Despite pushing its own two-year bill, the Senate is expected to approve the extension before March 31 deadline.


March 21, 2012

As expected, House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica announced today that he will introduce a three-month extension of the current transportation authorization bill. It will be a clean extension-the 9th since SAFETEA-LU expired in September 2009. Earlier today, Senator Boxer met with transportation stakeholders and asked them to lobby House leadership to instead consider taking up the recently passed two-year, $109 billion Senate authorization bill.


March 19, 2012

The Senate has passed S. 1813, the two year, $109 billion surface transportation authorization bill funding highway, bridges and transit programs.

The current bill expires on March 31 and the House will have to act before that time. The House is in recess this week but may take up the Senate bill in order to reach agreement before the deadline. Read more


February 24, 2012

After a week-long recess, the Senate will resume debate on MAP-21 (S.1813), the two-year surface transportation authorization bill funding federal highway, transit, and bridge programs, next week. The Senate still must address a number of unrelated and highly controversial amendments that will be part of the debate before working on numerous transportation-related amendments.

NLC is asking city officials to contact their senators and urge their support for several local government amendments that will be offered during Senate debate, including:

Casey-Blunt Amendment to Restore Funding for Off-System Bridges

S. 1813 collapses federal bridge programs into a larger program for states to spend on all transportation programs and eliminates a 15 percent set-aside for off-system bridges, which funds local bridges. This amendment would maintain the set-aside for bridges not on the federal-aid system, which has been in place since 1978 and has been of substantial help to local governments in their efforts to upgrade local bridges.

Cardin-Cochran Additional Activities Amendment

The Senate bill creates a new program called "Additional Activities," which includes a broad range of eligible projects including main street revitalizations, local street safety improvements, street and boulevard redesigns, bus stop and rail station access improvements, Safe Routes to Schools, Recreational Trails, and others. This amendment would make the Additional Activities program a competitive grant program for local governments, giving local elected leaders more control over how to spend the funds.

Shaheen Amendment to Grandfather Existing Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO)

Current law provides that areas over 50,000 in population are designated as an MPO and have regional planning responsibilities and decision making authority over transportation and other projects in their region. S.1813 would increase the threshold to 200,000 in population and set up new criteria for remaining an MPO. The Shaheen amendment would grandfather in existing MPOs.

In the House, leadership has not announced how they will proceed with their chamber's version of transportation legislation (H.R. 7), which was mired in controversy prior to this week's recess. Concerns over changes in funding to end the 30-year dedicated funding for transit programs out of gas tax revenues-opposed by NLC and some 600 other groups-was a key source of opposition to the bill and forced leadership to pull the bill off the table until after the recess. When the House does resume deliberation, the Rules Committee will have to decide what to do with the more than 300 amendments that have been proposed.


February 16, 2012

After moving quickly to bring legislation to the House and Senate floors for debate, action has now been delayed in both chambers. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attempted to block extraneous amendments that have prevented the Senate from debating S. 1318, the two-year Senate authorization bill.

In the House, Speaker John Boehner was stymied by opposition to H.R. 7, the House five-year authorization bill, and forced to break the bill into three parts to debate separately. The three sections of the proposal include the transportation section, a bill to fund the program through expanded oil shale and off-shore drilling, and a bill to change federal employee pension contributions. Speaker Boehner announced that the bill will not be completed before the House leaves for recess next week.

Lawmakers have until March 31 to reconcile the two very different approaches to transportation funding when the current short term extension of the current authorization program, already extended 8 times, runs out.


February 14, 2012

Soon after the President released his 2013 transportation budget, debate will begin in earnest in both the House and Senate on transportation reauthorization bills. 

After careful review, NLC strongly opposes the transit financing provisions contained in the House bill, which would remove transit funding from the Highway Trust Fund and instead opt to fund it out of regular appropriations-an extremely unlikely scenario under current budget conditions. 

The House bill is a five year, $260 billion bill that is opposed by most Democrats, some moderate Republicans, and could be opposed by conservative Republicans opposed to government spending. Secretary LaHood has denounced the bill and urges transportation lobbyists to oppose it.

The bill would authorize expanded oil and gas production and approve the Keystone pipeline project to provide the revenue needed to fully fund the bill beyond receipts from the gas tax.

In addition, House leadership will propose that changes in federal employee pension contributions will provide the additional revenue needed to make up for a shortfall in federal highway trust fund revenues. The Congressional Budget Office last week reported that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of funds by next year and the Mass Transit Account will run out funds by 2014.

The House bill will go to the House Rules Committee, which is scheduled to meet at 5:00 PM today to determine which of the 296 amendments will be allowed during floor debate. Based on reports we are hearing, House leadership does not have the votes to pass the bill and is considering breaking it up into component pieces. We will know whether the leadership has the votes based on whether the leadership brings the bill to the House for votes.

Debate in the Senate was scheduled to begin this morning but has been delayed due to a number of highly controversial amendments unrelated to transportation including aid to Egypt and contraception.

A link to an overview of several amendments in both the House and Senate bills can be found in the box to the right.


February 7, 2012

After a slow start, both the House and Senate are racing to move their respective long-term surface transportation funding proposals and avoid another short-term extension before the current one expires on March 31st.

Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a marathon 18-hour session to plow through more than 90 proposed amendments to H.R. 7, the American Energy and Jobs Infrastructure Act. The Committee approved the bill on a straight party line at 2:45 AM in the morning.

The following day, the House Ways and Means Committee debated the financing portion of the bill and voted to end a dedicated stream of funding for transit programs, instead opting for a one-time transfer of $40 billion in general funds to pay for both transit and the local Congestion Management and Air Quality (CMAQ) programs. Under the House bill, these programs would be funded through expanded oil shall and offshore drilling.

This departure from using federal gas tax revenues to partially fund transit was opposed by more than 600 groups, including NLC, and eliminates a 30-year precedent in funding transit programs through a portion of the 18.4 cent per gallon federal fuel tax. Transit programs would now be forced to compete with funding for local programs, military, foreign aid and defense spending for annual appropriations.

Meanwhile, the Senate expects to begin consideration this week of their bipartisan two-year, $109 billion bill, known as MAP-21.  MAP-21 would continue to fund transit programs via the existing Highway Trust Fund at current levels plus inflation. Three of the four Senate committees with jurisdiction have already acted on their portions of the bill; the Senate Finance Committee is responsible for finding $12 billion in additional revenues for each of the two years of the bill.

Currently, the House plans to begin consideration of H.R. 7 the week of February 13 and the Senate hopes to begin consideration the week of February 7.  The two bills are very different and both Houses will face extreme difficulty reconciling the two versions in time for the March 31st deadline.

The bills each contain provisions of great importance to cities and both bills contain provisions opposed by NLC. Here are some highlights:

AMERICAN ENERGY & JOBS INFRASTRUCTURE ACT (H.R. 7)

  • 5 years, $52 billion per year to fund federal highway, transit, bridge and safety programs at current spending levels.
  • Transfers federal support for transit to an Alternative Transportation Account that also would fund research, CMAQ and ferry boats.
  • Funded through regular appropriations-a one-time $40 billion general revenue transfer-rather than a dedicated funding source from the federal fuel tax. to be funded through  and by expanded energy programs in the future. NLC strongly opposes.
  • Grandfathers in existing Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO), but new MPOs would have to reach a population of 100,000. NLC supports maintaining current threshold of 50,000 in population.
  • Governors may override MPO decisions on National Highway System projects in the event of a dispute. NLC opposes.
  • Bill does not include specific funding for off-system bridges. NLC supports dedicated funding or a set-aside to ensure that local bridges receive minimum funding.
  • Includes rural planning provisions. NLC supports.
  • Expands the federal credit program known as TIFIA to $1 billion per year, provides incentives for states to establish state infrastructure banks, expands tolling authority, and encourages private sector participation.
  • Contains no earmarks.
  • Consolidates or eliminates nearly 70 federal programs, gives authority to states to make spending decisions. NLC concerned over local input, particularly in light of proposed MPO changes.
  • Expedites project approvals by delegating authority to states, requiring federal agencies to review projects concurrently, and shortening current review deadlines.
  • Eliminates enhancement programs as mandatory set-asides and restricts certain activities.
  • Eliminates the Safe-Routes-to-Schools program.
  • Expands use of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).
  • Establishes performance measures and targets, but leaves specifics to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), states and MPOs.

MOVING AHEAD FOR PROGRESS IN THE 21st CENTURY ACT (MAP-21, S. 1813)

  • 2 years, $55 billion per year to fund federal highway, transit, bridge and safety programs at current spending levels plus inflation.
  • Does not include specific funding for off-system bridges. NLC supports dedicated funding or a set-aside to ensure that local bridges receive minimum funding.
  • Changes threshold for remaining a Metropolitan Planning Organization to 200,000. Current MPOs between 50,000 and 200,000 would have to meet criteria established by DOT and have support of a governor to regain status. NLC supports maintainining current threshold of 50,000 in population.
  • Expands federal credit program known as TIFIA to $1 billion per year, provides incentives for states to establish state infrastructure banks, expands tolling authority, and encourages private sector participation.
  • Contains no earmarks.
  • Consolidates or eliminates nearly 70 federal programs. NLC concerned over local input, particularly in light of proposed MPO changes.
  • Eliminates enhancement programs as mandatory set-asides.
  • Expands use of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).
  • Establishes performance measures and targets, but leaves specifics to DOT, states and MPOs.
  • Removes the state volume cap on private activity bonds for water and wastewater projects. NLC supports.