Yes, we just got an authorization bill, and the industry should celebrate that. After all, a few short weeks ago, our federal program stood on the edge of oblivion, as many in the House majority wanted to take the Mass Transit Account and give it to highways. Yet, because this new bill is only a two-year authorization, we need to get ready for the next one — starting now.
Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) was legislation that almost caught everyone by surprise. The Senate had all the momentum and was working on a bipartisan bill. The revenue sources were always a problem, but even those were worked on in a bipartisan way. Maybe because everyone in the House runs for re-election, or some in the leadership really understand that a few had some pretty radical ideas among their ranks and were ready to carry them out if they got the chance, or even because those radicals didn’t understand their ideas were going to meet pretty strong opposition even within their own majority, the House never seemed like it was going to pass anything. Then the Senate saw an opportunity to put pressure on the other chamber, and combined with increasing voter frustration that the House was not focused on jobs and a looming election, suddenly a bill was rushed through the last days of the Congressional session.
Much was left unfinished, however, and because the bill was rushed, a technical corrections bill is coming; maybe even by the time you read this. For example, even though both sides agreed to a Small Starts program authorized at $150 million per year, it never showed up in the text of the bill they passed.
Less than desirable
This also illustrates that the bill is less than desirable by most who have read it, not least because there is still not enough money dedicated to the highway and transit programs. It remains the most important thing the industry can work on, so the next bill restores the funding guarantees that the two authorizations before MAP-21 had included.
A lot will be dictated by the outcome of the election, which is also why we need to start making, or rather restating, the case for public transportation investment. It took a while for the industry to develop the consensus of positions that led to MAP-21. We need to make sure we stay together on the next one; which means now. After all, the industry took almost two years to discuss, draft and adopt the industry’s positions. This time it will likely be harder.