The conference committee charged with crafting a new federal transportation authorization act met for the first time last week. And although the first meeting was more about ceremonial introductory statements by members of the committee, a willingness to negotiate was noted by all.
Behind the scenes, staff is working on ironing out differences on the least controversial parts of the bill. Issues such as construction of the Keystone pipeline will no doubt be more difficult to resolve. Another complicating factor is time. There are few session days left in which to negotiate and pass such a bill through both the House and the Senate.
The committee is chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer. That said, Michigan is represented on the conference committee as both Congressmen Dave Camp and Fred Upton have been named as conferees. Congressman Camp chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and Congressman Upton the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
This means that local officials have a unique opportunity to contact both Congressmen Camp and Upton about the need for a long term solution that will help to bring certainity to decisions being made at the local level on transportation and infrastructure projects. Urge them to:
· Support a bipartisan agreement on a long-term transportation bill that supports local government authority and funding for public transit;
· Support current law to maintain the current threshold of 50,000 in population for remaining a Metropolitan Planning Organization and the current share of funding for metropolitan areas at 62.5 percent rather than the 50 percent that is in the Senate bill;
· Adopt a provision in the Senate bill that would provide a 15 percent share of funding for local bridges from the overall funding for states; and
· Support “additional activities” in the Senate bill that would help revitalize Main Streets, make streets safer for walkers and bicyclists, and allow local governments direct access for communities to these funds.
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