Reversing policy begun under President Ronald Reagan, House Ways and Means Committee — at the direction of House leadership — could move to end guaranteed funding for public transportation and leave even today’s inadequate funding levels in doubt, according to Transportation 4 America.
The proposal to bar public transit from receiving funds from the federal motor fuels tax is part of a bill coming before the House Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 3. The bill sets the revenue levels for the five-year surface transportation bill making its way through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“We are deeply concerned that if this measure passes, Americans who use public transportation, or who would like that option in the future, will be thrown under the bus,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. “This couldn’t come at a worse time for people who need an affordable, reliable way to get to work or for employers who need workers.”
Corless noted the demand for transit has been rising as the economy slowly recovers and people are using public transportation to get to jobs and to avoid volatile gas prices. Over the course of the five-year transportation program, America’s population will continue to age rapidly and a growing number of seniors will be looking to transit services to maintain their independence.
Since Ronald Reagan was president, Congress has supported dedicated funding for both highways and transit. For the last 30 years, transit riders and the services they use have been able to depend on guaranteed funding from a mass transit trust fund replenished by a share of federal gasoline taxes. As congestion rose in urban areas, and rural areas saw their share of car-less, low-income families rise, bipartisan support grew for providing transit as a dependable relief valve. Removing the guaranteed funding would mean that transit would have to compete each year for general fund revenues that are in line for deep cuts in coming years.
“American workers and their employers already are dealing with deep uncertainties in these times of fiscal crisis,” said John Robert Smith, co-chair of Transportation for America and President of Reconnecting America. “As local tax revenues have dropped, transit service is being cut, fares raised and maintenance is being deferred. Seniors in rural areas are waiting hours for a ride to the doctor, veterans have very few transportation options to get them to VA centers and workers in cities don’t know when the next bus is coming. Putting these services in jeopardy would be a cruel a blow to these Americans.”
Additionally, American Public Transportation Association (APTA) President and CEO Michael Melaniphy released the following statement:
“On behalf of the 1,500 members of the American Public Transportation Association and Americans who take more than 10 billion public transit trips annually, we are strongly opposed to the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee proposal to divert $25 billion in dedicated fuels tax revenues from the Mass Transit Account. This represents nearly 50 percent of the federal investment in public transit authorized by the House surface transportation bill. This drastic change will clearly put public transportation projects at risk.
“This proposal seeks to undo nearly 30 years of overwhelming bipartisan support for dedicated federal investment in public transit. Since 1983, under President Ronald Reagan, fuels tax revenues have been dedicated to public transit through the Mass Transit Account of the surface transportation legislation.
“We call on Congress to continue the long-standing highway and public transit financing partnership in place today so that our country can continue to create American jobs and foster economic growth, as well as rebuild our aging infrastructure and meet the growing demand for improved and expanded transportation.”