Committees make progress on transportation authorization bill

Posted on June 16, 2011 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

In May, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Subcommittee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) issued a joint statement on their draft transportation reauthorization legislation, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), marking a major step in a reauthorization bill that is close to two years late.

"It is no secret that the four of us represent very different political views, but we have found common ground in the belief that building highways, bridges and transportation systems is an important responsibility of the federal government, in cooperation with state and local governments and the private sector," said the statement.

At a press conference following the group's release, Boxer announced the committee is planning a $339.2 billion bill, which is equivalent to current levels, with modest growth to account for inflation. The proposal assumes the General Fund contribution to public transportation would be continued, and likewise, increased for inflation, but the transit title will be written by the Senate Banking Committee and is not under the jurisdiction of the EPW committee. Boxer also announced the committee planned to hold hearings on the final draft of the bill in June, with the hopes that she can mark it up before the Fourth of July recess.

Boxer noted that details on how the bill would be funded have not been settled and those details would ultimately determine the length of the bill.

"The EPW is now looking to the Finance Committee to see whether the funding can be identified to enable us to get to a six-year bill with the numbers that people would like to see, or whether we have to live with a two-year bill within current funding, because there isn't political support, yet, to come to the levels that members would like to see in a six-year bill," explained Jeffrey Boothe, partner at Holland & Knight about the next step for the EPW's proposal. He added that Sen. Baucus will play an important role in the proposed bill's progression, due to his dual role as EPW subcommittee chairman and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The bill also will include the elimination of earmarks; the consolidation of numerous programs to focus resources on key national goals and reduce duplicative and wasteful programs; and the creation of a new section called America Fast Forward, which strengthens the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program to stretch federal dollars "further than they have been stretched before." The bill also will propose an annual $1 billion authorization in TIFIA to leverage new private investments.

Other features of the proposed bill include the consolidation of numerous programs into a more focused freight program that will improve the movement of goods and an expedited project delivery process that will not sacrifice "the environment or the rights of people to be heard."

"We know there is still much work to do, but we believe this is a very important step. In cooperation with the Finance Committee, we are exploring a wide range of options to support and sustain the Highway Trust Fund," read the statement. "Our goal is to attain the optimum achievable authorization length depending on the resources available. It is critical that this be done in a way that does not increase the deficit and can achieve bipartisan support."

House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) also was set to introduce his bill in early June. Mica has maintained that the bill would continue to be funded from the Highway Trust Fund, which could result in as much as a 30 percent reduction in spending for federal transit and highway programs.



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