Skip to content

Posts from the "Federal Funding" Category

No Comments

At NACTO Conference, LaHood Delivers Straight Talk on MAP-21

After a rousing opening speech from NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took the stage at the “Designing Cities” conference of the National Association of City Transportation Officials yesterday. Streetsblog stringer Dani Simons was there and briefed us on the highlights.

U.S. DOT chief Ray LaHood says cities are the incubators of innovation. Photo: NYCDOT via AN Blog

LaHood said:

  • We’ve made amazing progress in cities in the past four years with light rail, high-speed rail, BRT, walking and biking paths. And we’re not going back. We can only go forward from here.
  • The incubators (of good transportation ideas) in America are the cities.
  • I know a lot of you were disappointed about the new federal transportation bill, MAP-21, but you know the best thing about the new bill? It’s only a two-year bill.
  • In my opinion the fight over the next bill won’t be as much about content as it is about how to fund it. And I think, if Obama is reelected, that Congress will start getting to work on the new bill starting in January.
  • Hopefully Congress will pass new appropriations to fund another round of TIGER grants, but that depends on whether Congress passes any new appropriations before the end of this term.

Indeed, there are stirrings of work on the next bill already. LaHood is right: The fight next time will be all about money, just as the fight last time was all about money — it was just never resolved. If Congress can’t find a way to bring in as much in revenue as the Highway Trust Fund needs to spend on infrastructure, the country will continue along a path of belt-tightening and bailouts — and it will strengthen the hand of anyone who wants to eliminate funding for transit, walking and biking. Without overcoming the funding issue first, it will be difficult to make significant progress in the new bill.

As for appropriations, the House has passed half of its appropriations bills for fiscal year 2013, which has already started, including the one for transportation. The full Senate has passed none, though the Senate committee for transportation appropriations did pass one that includes money for TIGER, as well as the Partnership for Sustainable Communities grants and non-high-speed inter-city passenger rail. The House budget doesn’t allocate money for any of those things. A continuing budget resolution is in place now, which freezes current funding through the end of March, including for TIGER.

No Comments

Mica, GOP Leadership Looking to Raise Transportation Spending Levels in Bill

According to yet another great report from Jeff Davis at Transportation Weekly, House Republican leadership has given House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica permission to seek additional revenues to fund the transportation reauthorization at levels $15 billion higher than initially proposed.

John Mica is conspiring with top GOP leadership to lift transportation funding levels above those outlined in April by Budget Chair Paul Ryan. Photo: Christian Science Monitor.

One Republican source, quoted in Transportation Weekly, said that given the persistently high unemployment rates, the surface transportation bill may become the centerpiece of Republicans’ alternative agenda to the president’s proposed jobs bill.

The House reauthorization bill, introduced by Mica in July, followed the budget plan outlined in April by Rep. Paul Ryan, setting transportation spending at the level expected to come in through Highway Trust Fund revenues over the next six years. Transportation officials, advocates, and Democrats have decried those numbers as spelling starvation for the transportation program, especially for many innovative programs that have been introduced over the last few years.

The appropriations committee followed suit a few week ago, approving spending at those low levels. But by then, Republican leadership was reportedly having second thoughts. Jeff Davis writes:

House Republican leaders privately tried to dissuade the Appropriations Committee from moving a 2012 spending bill with the lower Trust Fund spending numbers, but it would have been awkward for the Speaker or Majority Leader to publicly criticize a Republican committee chairman for writing a bill at the budget level that 235 Republican House members voted for five months previously.

Sources say Mica and Republican leadership are seeking about $15 billion a year in additional revenues, providing a very significant boost to the spending outlined in the reauthorization proposal Mica released in July:

Read more…

No Comments

Dealbreaker: Senate Rejects House Budget Due to Lack of Car Subsidies

What’s keeping Congress from passing an extension to the federal budget? Democratic protection of automobile subsidies.

Top Senate Democrat Harry Reid vows to keep an clean-car subsidy in the budget, come hell or high water. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

After midnight last night, the House finally managed to narrowly pass a budget extension bill, but Senate leaders have already rejected it out of hand, since it includes about half the disaster relief they’d like and cuts $1.5 billion from a clean-fuel technology manufacturing program for the auto industry.

The disagreement is strong enough that it threatens to keep Congress in session longer than intended — likely through the weekend, and possibly even into next week’s scheduled recess.

That gives them a week, if necessary, to avert a government shutdown — the potential consequence of inaction on a bill to extend federal government spending past September 30.

Clean vehicles are great, but if Democrats really want to meet important environmental goals, just imagine how much good they could do by spending that $1.5 billion to implement better bus systems or provide emergency assistance to transit agencies struggling to keep up with higher ridership.

In addition to highlighting how Senate Democrats highly prize car subsidies, this situation also puts in perspective the brewing fight over the FY2012 budget. If Congress can’t even pass a simple extension to keep government operations for a few months, with just a few billion dollars’ difference, how will they ever agree to bridge the enormous gap between their visions for FY2012?

Read more…

No Comments

Senate Saves a Sliver For High-Speed Rail

President Obama had sought $8 billion for high-speed rail in 2012. The House-passed budget had exactly zero. The Senate bill approved by the Transportation subcommittee Tuesday followed suit. But the full Appropriations Committee yesterday put $100 million back into next year’s budget for the president’s signature transportation initiative.

Senator Dick Durbin, co-chair of the High-Speed Rail Caucus, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ride a high-speed train in China. Photo from Reid's Flickr photostream

That’s still starvation wages for the program, but it’s at least a placeholder that keeps it limping along. The move was spearheaded by four Democratic senators — Dick Durbin of Illinois, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Dianne Feinstein of California and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — who introduced the successful amendment to reallocate some funds earmarked for highway and transit projects to high-speed rail.

“I offered this amendment because we can’t turn our backs on a project that will invest in the future and put Californians back to work,” Feinstein said in a statement.

“Every dollar we spend on rail produces $3 in economic output,” added Senator Durbin, a founding member of the Bi-Cameral High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus. “Congress has maintained a commitment to high speed and intercity rail for over a decade. This amendment will continue that commitment.”

Highway funding in the Senate bill stays at FY2011 levels, but the chamber added another $358 million for the New Starts program for transit capital investments, previously funded at $8.3 billion. The House budget would reduce New Starts to $5.3 billion.

TIGER got a little bump too, with the Senate raising the allocation from $527 million to $550 million. Of that, $120 million is reserved for rural communities. The third round of TIGER grant applications is currently underway.

The Senate-passed budget keeps $90 million for the tri-agency Partnership for Sustainable Communities (down from $100 million in 2011), a victory for livability advocates and anyone who prefers federal collaboration and efficiency over stovepipes and silos.

Read more…

No Comments

Obama: “I Will Veto Any Bill” Without Tax Increases on the Wealthy

In a Rose Garden speech this morning, President Obama soundly rejected Republicans’ push to address the deficit exclusively through spending cuts with no tax increases. He was responding to House Speaker John Boehner, who said last week that tax increases were “off the table.” The outcome of the current deficit-cutting fight could have significant implications for transportation-related proposals like the national infrastructure bank, which Obama included in his recently-unveiled American Jobs Act.

President Obama said he won't accept spending cuts without tax increases. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In a speech last Thursday, Boehner ruled out any form of tax increase as the deficit reduction “super committee” decides how to meet its mandate. “When it comes to producing savings to reach its $1.5 trillion deficit reduction target, the Joint Select Committee has only one option,” he said, “spending cuts and entitlement reform.”

President Obama went to the mat this morning for a different approach to cutting the deficit. He presented his own plan, which includes some spending cuts and policy changes to Medicare and Medicaid, in addition to other programs. But the centerpiece is the elimination of corporate tax loopholes and of tax cuts for the wealthy.

“I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share,” Obama said. “We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks that are most vulnerable.”

There are many plans on the table right now, both to increase spending and to cut it. The president released his deficit reduction plan, in part, to explain how to pay for his job creation bill, which includes $50 billion for transportation infrastructure and $10 to capitalize a national infrastructure bank.

Read more…

No Comments

House and Senate Agree on 6-Month Transpo Extension

Just days after a Senate committee asked the full chamber to consider a four-month extension of SAFETEA-LU, new negotiations have replaced that idea with a six-month extension at current spending levels. The bill also extends the gas tax.

Over the weekend, the House and Senate decided to combine the long-overdue FAA reauthorization with the pending surface transportation bill, considering them together as one uniform transportation extension [PDF]. The FAA bill will be extended for four months, while SAFETEA-LU will be extended for six, with an expiration date of March 31.

As an added bonus, combining the bill with the FAA means that Congress can’t keep us in suspense until the last possible moment, as they’ve been prone to do lately. (Remember the debt ceiling? Remember the narrowly-averted government shutdown last spring?) The FAA extension expires September 16, so if Congress is to extend them together, they’ll have to act by the end of this week, instead of waiting till the end of next week, when they leave for another recess. The House is tentatively planning to vote on the bill tomorrow.

The extension is a clean one, with no changes in policy. That means bike/ped funding, which has been under threat over the last week, will remain for the next six months, at least. And the extension will be funded by the same 18.4 cent federal gas tax the U.S. has had since 1993, which was also due to expire September 30 and which is also renewed by this action.

The extension will stick to current funding levels, authorizing $24.78 billion in spending from the Highway Trust Fund for the first half of FY2012 (which begins October 1). That’s almost $19.8 billion for highways and $4.2 billion for transit.

That’s far more than the FY2012 budget just passed by the Transportation and HUD Appropriations subcommittee in the House, which agreed to $27.7 billion for highways and $5.2 billion for transit for the entire year. Although this extension can authorize more spending than that, actual spending levels are up to the appropriators, according to Jeff Davis at Transportation Weekly. Experts say that at this level, most of the money would go to pay states back for projects already built, and new highway project funding could be cut by as much as 75 percent.

Read more…

No Comments

Inhofe Supports Clean Extension, Won’t Vote Against Bike/Ped (This Time)

The Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously agreed this morning to send a four-month extension of the transportation bill to the full Senate. Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) emphasized that it wasn’t easy to get consensus on the extension, especially with many members wanting to move forward with the full two-year bill.

Sen. James Inhofe still wants to kill bike/ped funding — but later. Photo: TPM/wdcpix

And yesterday, as frazzled Senators rushed around the Capitol during their first day of legislative work after the August recess, the reality began to set in that the clock is ticking to pass an extension before the surface transportation programs expire on September 30.

In addition to passing the extension this morning, Boxer’s committee has also been crafting a two-year, $109 billion reauthorization that would keep spending at current levels.

Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, the ranking member on the committee, voted for the clean four-month extension, saying it will buy the time needed to craft the two-year bill. He says he won’t support Sen. Tom Coburn’s push to kill transportation enhancement funding, which includes bicycle and pedestrian projects – for now. But when it comes to the two-year bill, Inhofe would like to say goodbye to all bike/ped projects.

“I’m all for totally cutting the transportation enhancement funding,” he said in an interview with Streetsblog. “I’ve talked to Senator Boxer about it and I think we can come up with something where we do away with those enhancements.”

Boxer has pledged to maintain dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs in the bill.

Inhofe did acknowledge, however, that TE comprises “less than 2 percent [of the transportation program], instead of the 10 percent that some people think it is.” (Coburn is one of those people.)

Read more…

No Comments

The Senate’s “Dr. No” Says He’ll Block An Extension Unless Bike/Ped Is Cut

Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn is known around the Senate as “Dr. No” for his propensity to hold up key legislation, single-handedly, because it contains something not to his liking (or sometimes because he’s upset about something else entirely.) On Veterans Day in 2009, he shocked even his GOP colleagues by blocking veterans’ benefits because he wanted their cost to be offset. Because of a Senate rule requiring unanimity for certain votes, he alone has been able to block votes on wilderness protections, health care provisions, and disarmament in Uganda.

Dr. No paints a bullseye on bike/ped funding. Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images

Now Dr. No has his sights set on bicycle and pedestrian funding.

As calls for a “clean” extension to SAFETEA-LU poured in, Coburn made it clear last week he won’t get with the program. His spokesperson announced that Coburn would try to block the extension if Transportation Enhancements weren’t removed from the bill.

About two percent of the federal transportation budget goes to TE, and of that, 57 percent goes to bike/ped projects, with the rest funding streetscaping, historic preservation and other programs.

The GOP rallying cry against the miniscule amount of money for bicycle and pedestrian improvements is metastasizing. Earlier we reported that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was urging that dedicated funding for Transportation Enhancements be eliminated. And today, Cantor, along with House Speaker John Boehner, sent a letter to President Obama with the same demand:
Read more…

No Comments

GOP Leader’s Infra “Compromise” Is Just Another Ploy to Kill Bike/Ped

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has put forth an idea that major news outlets are calling an “olive branch” to President Obama on infrastructure funding.

Eric Cantor's bold new compromise on infrastructure? Just Republican talking points. Photo: John Shinkle / Politico

Is he offering to increase spending levels over the starvation program being proposed by Republicans on the House Transportation Committee? No. Is he proposing to include performance measures, making sure that investments contribute to national transportation priorities? No. Is he baldly trying to eliminate bike/ped funding from the budget? You got it.

Cantor’s “compromise” is already a plank of the Transportation Committee’s plan. Cantor, and Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL) want to “eliminat[e] the requirement that states must set aside 10 percent of federal surface transportation funds for transportation museums, education, and preservation would allow states to devote these monies to high-priority infrastructure projects, without adding to the deficit.”

The pot of money he’s proposing to eliminate is called Transportation Enhancements, and the primary way the federal government supports active transportation. Republicans have been using the “10 percent” figure to drum up indignation over the “misuse” of transportation funds, but it’s important to note that Transportation Enhancements make up 10 percent of the surface transportation program, which is less than a quarter of the entire federal aid highway program. Enhancements actually make up about two percent of all federal highway aid.

That’s two percent for biking and walking, which together make up 12 percent of trips. Larry Ehl of Transportation Issues Daily predicted yesterday that bike/ped funding — even though it represents a tiny proportion of the total transportation tab — would be a stumbling block in extending the current transportation bill. Indeed, it’s a major point of contention in debates over the whole bill.

It’s ridiculous, given that the vast majority of the bill is still for highways. But here comes Eric Cantor, trotting out party-line gimmicks and convincing the media it’s a breakthrough.

Know what would be a real breakthrough, Mr. Cantor? When Congress comes back into session tomorrow, pass a clean extension of SAFETEA-LU without any strings attached or budget cuts required. Then work with the Senate to pass its bipartisan bill, which itself is the product of serious compromise with some of the most conservative members of the Republican party. The bill holds spending at current levels, plus inflation; it agrees with the House on a major expansion of the TIFIA loan program; it includes some performance measures; and it preserves dedicated funding for bike/ped. Now what’s so hard about that?

No Comments

With Deadlines Looming, Mica Supports Transportation Extension

Congress returns from a monthlong recess — oh sorry, “district work period” — next Wednesday. Before September 30, they’ll have to figure out next steps for keeping the transportation program going, assuming there’s no way that the two chambers will come to an agreement about a long-term bill before the current extension expires. Both houses are reportedly now on board to pass an extension of the current transportation law, but many questions remain.

The clock is ticking for Congress to extend the transportation bill, the federal budget, and the gas tax. Image: Ananse Productions

Congress will also have to dodge expected Tea Party assaults on what should be a routine extension of the federal gas tax. And as if that weren’t enough, members have to concern themselves with the small detail of the federal budget: The 2011 fiscal year ends September 30 too. And passing new budgets hasn’t been an easy — or timely — task of late.

To add a sort of slapstick hilarity to the urgency of addressing these three major issues before the end of the month, Congress is taking off for another district work period September 23, making that the effective deadline for all of these actions. That gives members 11 work days to solve all of these problems (given that Congress is rarely in session on Mondays).

Considering the fact that the country didn’t have a 2011 budget until halfway through the fiscal year, we can assume no one on the Hill is sweating too hard about the September deadline, but missing it won’t be as easy as it used to be. Where Congress used to pass “clean” extensions of old budgets and policies when they were late in coming up with new ones, the House lately has been insisting on spending cuts even just to pass an extension. Note that an extension is what you do when you can’t agree on things like, for example, spending cuts. So waiting till the last minute to even talk about an extension of the federal budget is risky business these days.

That goes for transportation too. According to the Transport Topics Publishing Group, House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica has now said that he will support an extension to the current transportation authorization. Up until now, he had stayed focused on the passage of a six-year bill, declining to talk about interim options. But Transport Topics quoted committee spokesperson Justin Harclerode saying that while the committee continues to work on a long-term reauthorization, “it will also support an extension of expiring authority as necessary.” Senate leaders are reportedly willing to pass a six-month extension of SAFETEA-LU to keep the transportation program rolling.

The chambers will need time to hammer out some sort of agreement on their competing versions of the reauthorization: a two-year bill at current funding levels (plus inflation) from the Senate, with money for bicycle and pedestrian projects, or a six-year bill from the House which cuts funding across the board by about a third and dedicates no money for active transportation.

Read more…