With surface transportation reauthorization facing several hurdles, most notably funding, key congressional staff engaged in overseeing public transportation programs shared their views and outlook for the legislative process during the “Congress & the Federal Transportation Agenda” session Monday.
While acknowledging the importance of reauthorizing the surface transportation bill, one key takeaway from the informative session was that both the $302 billion, four-year GROW America Act proposed by President Obama and his Administration and the funding recommended by APTA will be difficult for Congress to come up with.
In fact, it may very well be impossible unless a funding source is found, said Andrew Brady, majority professional staff member, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He also added it is already a challenge to maintain enough funding to meet the current levels set in MAP-21.
Brady said that Congressional members are open to hearing creative ideas from the industry, as well as feedback on which programs are most important and which programs or initiatives that may not be worth moving forward on. Basically, he said, any comments or suggestions are welcomed absent of asking for more federal funds for public transportation.
Both Brady and Homer Carlisle, professional staff member, Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, said Congress is exploring ideas to come up with funding for the bill, but it is still a difficult nut to crack, with the politically unpopular idea of simply raising the gas tax beginning to look like it wouldn’t be enough as many Americans continue to drive less and the fuel efficiency of automobiles continues to increase.
On a brighter note, Brady did add that as soon as a funding source is identified, Congress is ready to move on bill, with that package ideally being ready around the time the current MAP-21 extension ends this spring. However, citing the successful passage of two bills during the 2008 election year, the possibility was not ruled out by the panel that something could get done in either the so-called lame duck Congress following this year’s elections or at the beginning of the new Congressional session in early 2015.
In either case, the panel urged the public transportation industry to continue making their voices heard on Capitol Hill and to share ideas with members on both sides of the aisle, because Congress is “serious” about the bill being a work of true bipartisanship.