Senate Continues Debate on Transportation Bill

by Leslie Wollack

Last Thursday, the Senate defeated an attempt to kill the transportation authorization bill on budgetary grounds and held a marathon session of votes on some of the 30 amendments allowed for debate. Since the rest of the votes have been deferred until this week, local officials will have an opportunity to urge support for the $109 billion, two-year bill funding federal highway, bridge and transit programs before the current program expires on March 31. 

The debate on S. 1813, or MAP-21, began with dissenting votes on several controversial, non-germane amendments such as speeding up the timeline for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and consolidating and eliminating government programs, which required a 60-vote margin to win. S.1813 had enjoyed mostly bipartisan support as it worked its way through the four committees with jurisdiction over the bill.

The amendment by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that would have sent the bill back to committee for failure to meet the budget restrictions adopted last summer by Congress failed 66-31. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that federal transportation revenues will run out in 2013. S.1813 would fund transportation at current levels plus inflation, spending the remaining funds in the Highway Trust Fund. 

Senator Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) spoke out in favor of raising federal gasoline taxes to meet national transportation needs on the Senate floor earlier in the day - a very unpopular position, but one of the underlying issues in the transportation debate. 

Transportation reauthorization will be a key issue during NLC's Congressional City Conference, being held this week in Washington, D.C. 

NLC urges passage of a bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization bill before the current program expires and in time for the spring construction season when the jobs created can help keep local economies growing. Local officials continue to take responsibility for financing critical infrastructure investments in their communities and urge Congress to continue their financial commitment to this intergovernmental partnership that has built and maintained our national infrastructure network. 

NLC also urges support for the Casey-Blunt amendment to provide a 15 percent set aside for off-system bridges that support the maintenance of bridges not on the federal interstate system. 

Local officials are encouraged to urge Congress to address the longer-term challenge of funding for transportation. NLC supports the expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) contained in S. 1813, which will allow local governments to take advantage of financing alternatives

In the House of Representatives, after an agonizing week of trying to find a legislative vehicle that could win enough votes in a bitterly divided body, leadership decided to take up the Senate bill instead of versions of the five-year bill adopted by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in January. Facing the March 31 deadline, the House is in recess this week.