Both the U.S. House and Senate are moving forward with legislation that would put in place a new transportation funding authorization bill. However, given the sharp contrasts in the proposals, there is still a great deal of skepticism as to whether or not a compromise can be found before the current extension expires on March 31.
On the House side, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has passed, on a partisan basis, a 5-year $260 billion measure that does little to improve our aging roads and bridges, or for that matter to create a broader mobility system. And the funding source for this five year measure is not a increase in fuel taxes, but rather increased federal revenue from more oil exploration and drilling.
As to some of the specifics, the committee voted to eliminate all federal requirements that states and localities spend 10% of their highway funding on alternative transportation projects (CMAQ), such as Safe Routes to Schools, sidewalks, biking or pedestrian infrastructure. Instead the committee chose to leave it to state DOT’s to decide which of these projects should be funded.
The committee also eliminated funding for the TIGER program which has been used by local units in Michigan and across the country as a direct source of funding for merit based, innovative projects to improve local and regional transportation systems.
And last but not least, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to remove protections for transit funding by eliminating the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund. This means that the only source of guaranteed funding for transit capital projects will now be subject to fighting for general fund dollars. The committee bill would allow locals extra money by contracting out their transit services to private operators. simply as a reward for being profit-motivated.
For its part The Senate started moving a new two year bill prior to the new year. That legislation (S.1813) would, for the most part, hold funding levels constant. In order to keep funding constant, they have had to find $13 billion which reports indicate will come from the recently announced cuts in defense spending. Aside from funding, there are also other issues of note for locals, including changes that would impact regional planning agencies.
Michigan is well represented in the process on the House side, with Congressman Dave Camp of Midland chairing the Ways and Means Committee and Congresswoman Candice Miller from Macomb County a long time member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Congressman Sander Levin also serves with Congressman Camp on Ways and Means. Please continue to communicate with them as well as your own congressional representative on the problems with this bill and without any changes, ask them to vote no.
The League has been and will continue to contact the congressional delegation. We’ve issued a statement and signed on to a national coalition letter opposing the bill. Also, the American Association of State Highway Officials has voiced opposition. This year AASHTO is led by MDOT Director Kirk Steudle. We’ll continue to keep you updated as events unfold and be sure to attend this year’s Capitol Conference to get the very latest.
Arnold Weinfeld is Director of Strategic Initiatives and Federal Affairs for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at 517-908-0304 or by e-mail.