Contentious Transportation Conference Ahead for Congressional Negotiators

May 7, 2012

by Leslie Wollack

House and Senate negotiators have scheduled an official meeting this week to resolve two very different approaches to a long-term surface transportation authorization bill.

While the Senate bill, S. 1814, or MAP-21, contains some very important policy changes for the federal transportation program funding highways, bridges and public transportation programs, it is a provision in the House version to mandate quick approval of the Keystone pipeline that will be a flashpoint in the discussions. 

The House bill, H.R. 4348, would extend the current program for another 90 days beginning on June 30th, when time on the current extension - the 10th since the transportation program, known as SAFETEA-LU, originally expired - runs out. Leaders have been unable to adopt a transportation program with policy language and instead opted for a straight or "clean" extension that included several controversial items - such as approval of the Keystone pipeline and regulatory streamlining to speed up transportation projects - in order to gain Republican support. 

The Senate has twice rejected the Keystone pipeline amendment. House leaders have indicated they cannot pass a bill without the amendment.

The House rejected efforts by Democrats to pass MAP-21, the Senate's two-year, $109 billion program, and instead voted for the 90-day extension and requested a conference with the Senate on their bill shortly after the Congressional recess. 

Key issues impacting local governments will be part of the House-Senate negotiations on the transportation bill. For instance, NLC supports a provision in the Senate bill guaranteeing a 15 percent set-aside in funding for local bridges (the Casey-Blunt amendment), and supports current law that would preserve the structure and distribution funding for Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO). 

NLC is in favor of current law for maintaining essential transportation programs and dedicated funding for transportation enhancements and Safe Routes to School, which have added economic benefits to local transportation programs and expanded bicycle and pedestrian transportation corridors and facilities. NLC also supports the proposed changes in the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation (TIFIA) contained in the Senate passed bill. NLC opposes the provision in the Senate bill that would change the threshold required for MPOs.

Due to multiple committees having jurisdiction over the bill, there are 14 conferees in the Senate and 33 in the House.

NLC encourages city leaders to contact members of the House-Senate conference committee to: preserve the current MPO structure and threshold and maintain the current 62.5 percent funding distribution in current law; maintain essential transportation programs in current law, including Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School; support water and wastewater project caps from state volume cap for private activity bonds contained in the Senate bill; and support a 15 percent set-aside for local bridges adopted during Senate debate on S. 1813. 

Senate conferees: Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), David Vitter (R-La.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.).

House conferees: John Mica (R-Fla.), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), John Duncan (R-Tenn.), Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), Don Young (R-Ala.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ed Whitfield (R-Ken.), Larry Buschon (R-Ind.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Ralph Hall (R-Texas), Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) and Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio).