Rail

Budget, taxes will determine next transportation bill

Posted on September 15, 2009 by Cliff Henke

A showdown is coming; everyone can see it. The only question is when it will happen. How it plays out will determine the size and, in large part, the shape of the next federal surface transportation policy bill.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has already reported a policy bill out of his panel, ready for a vote by the full House. Major changes are in his bill, including the elimination of the alternatives analysis process, much greater power and funding to metropolitan planning, and a weakening - and to some degree de-funding - of urban rail's chief competition, bus rapid transit. His ambitious bill would spend $450 billion over six years, a more than 50 percent increase over the current bill.

Who will pay?

The trouble with his committee's bill is there is no way to pay for much of it, mainly because that issue is within the provinces of the House Ways and Means Committee and, later, the Senate Finance Committee. It is also because the primary source of federal assistance revenue, the gasoline and diesel tax, now pays for a declining share of the program, requiring ever-larger bailouts with borrowed money.

The lack of resolution of the funding issue is the major reason why a consensus has formed around an 18-month extension of the existing law, so that renewing the program is put off until the more contentious and even larger issues of paying for health care reform and energy/climate change policy are taken up.

Some Washington, D.C. observers believe that how these larger issues come out might affect transportation funding, because the political capital for tax increases will either be exhausted, if health care reform and climate change pass, or left unused if these bigger deals fail.

Another connection: Some in Congress also continue to advocate for reserving part of the climate change revenues for public transportation and sustainable communities. Oberstar and his allies think it could and should get done without resolving the trust fund issue in order to stimulate the economy, because the first stimulus bill passed earlier this year may have been too small.

Welcome to 1981

All this feels very much like three decades ago. In 1981, Ronald Reagan's program of tax cuts and massive military spending was not moving the economy fast enough. He was forced to give back some of it to close a mounting deficit in the very next budget year. His party lost seats in the 1982 mid-term election, and to answer concerns he was not doing enough about unemployment, he signed a large transportation bill and nickel gas tax increase (with a penny of it for transit, which created the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund).

The moral of the story: Keep watching the deficit and unemployment numbers, and don't be surprised if authorization doesn't get done until a lame duck session after the mid-term Congressional elections in 2010.

 

View comments or post a comment on this story. (0 Comments)

More News

Metra to install suicide prevention signs

The signs will be developed and finalized as part of a Mental Health Awareness Symposium to be hosted by Metra in September to coincide with National Suicide Awareness Month.

Accident, no shows plague commute for LIRR, NJ Transit passengers

Some NJ TRANSIT trains have been canceled this week because engineers are choosing not to work under the terms of their contract amid the summer-long repair work at Penn Station.

Mayor says Miami-Dade can't afford to build more rail lines

Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s $534 million proposal for rapid-bus routes would indefinitely defer the Metrorail expansion promised voters in 2002 during a referendum for a half-percent transportation tax.

FTA, Maryland Transit Administration appeal judge's Purple Line decision

Ruling called for an additional environmental study of the light rail line, despite the fact the project had already been studied and signed-off on by the feds. 

Breakdowns, staffing part of growing Miami Metrorail safety concerns

When state inspectors visited Miami-Dade in late 2016, they concluded the county needed 84 working Metrorail cars a day but that mechanical problems left only 72 that could be deployed for service. State inspectors returned in late June and found Miami-Dade’s daily goal was to have only 60 Metrorail cars in service.

See More News

Post a Comment

Post Comment

Comments (0)

More From The World's Largest Fleet Publisher

Automotive Fleet

The Car and truck fleet and leasing management magazine

Business Fleet

managing 10-50 company vehicles

Fleet Financials

Executive vehicle management

Government Fleet

managing public sector vehicles & equipment

TruckingInfo.com

THE COMMERCIAL TRUCK INDUSTRY’S MOST IN-DEPTH INFORMATION SOURCE

Work Truck Magazine

The number 1 resource for vocational truck fleets

Schoolbus Fleet

Serving school transportation professionals in the U.S. and Canada

LCT Magazine

Global Resource For Limousine and Bus Transportation

Please sign in or register to .    Close