By Leslie Wollack
Last Thursday, Senate transportation leaders announced plans to move ahead on a transportation reauthorization bill to replace legislation that expires on September 30.
Senators Barbara Boxer and David Vitter, bipartisan leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told reporters that they hope to move a bill to the full Senate this summer, contingent upon revenues to prop up the Highway Trust Fund.
Subcommittee heads Sens. Tom Carper and John Barasso also participated in the session. Previously, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster also said he hopes to bring a bill to the House floor this summer.
In addition to the dire funding conditions for federal transportation programs, there are several additional important issues specifically impacting local governments in the federal program funding highways, bridges, roads and transit programs.
NLC will be advocating for a multi-year bill that allows local governments a greater say in spending decisions through their regional planning organization, including specific funding allocations that allow them to choose projects that improve mobility for people and goods and fit into their overall development goals.
The senators’ plan to renew MAP-21, or Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, calls for a long – term bill at current spending levels plus inflation, keeping current formula programs intact, expanding rural program and “leveraging” local resources. Committee leaders conceded their recommendations would require $16 billion each year in revenues to supplement the shortfall in gas taxes.
The announcement came as the House of Representatives voted on a FY 2015 budget that would limit federal transportation funding to gas tax revenues and cut funding for Amtrak subsidies and transit capital programs.
President Obama and House Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp have offered proposals to use money from corporate tax reform to pay for a new transportation bill. The President’s proposal would transfer $150 billion to the Highway Trust Fund to fund a four-year infrastructure bill; Rep. Camp’s proposal would transfer $125 billion.
The Congressional Budget Office projects that the Highway Trust Fund will be depleted by the fall. The current gas tax at 18.4 cents has not been increased since 1993 and generates $34 billion annually.
With key committees turning their attention to the transportation renewal, local officials are urged to contact their legislators to let them know how important federal transportation revenues are to their community.
NLC asks that in their conversations with their Congressional Delegation, they should be specific in outlining what critical investments have been made with federal dollars and what would be lost without the funding. They should also stress that since transportation is so critical to job creation and economic output, along with the $53 billion in additional revenues raised by local governments to fund transportation investments in 2011, it is the position of NLC that more funding decisions must be in the hands of local officials acting through their local planning organizations. Local decision-making is a key component to cost-effective and well thought out transporation projects.
Here are links to key Senate and House committee members for your information: