Reauthorization negotiators start the journey

News ARTBA June 10, 2004
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Senators and representatives appointed to the conference committee to negotiate the differences between the two chambers' propo

Senators and representatives appointed to the conference committee to negotiate the differences between the two chambers' proposed six-year TEA-21 reauthorization bills held their first formal meeting. The session largely consisted of brief opening statements from conference committee members. The conferees, however, did agree to a list of 11 non-controversial provisions that would be part of the final legislation.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) directed staff members to work over the next two weeks to try to resolve as many "non-money" issues as possible. If such agreements can be reached at the staff level, the provisions are expected to be adopted at a June 23 meeting.

The opening statements from senators and representatives demonstrated a broad diversity of perspectives and priorities for proceeding with negotiations. While Inhofe and several others expressed an interest in resolving issues early in the process, others, including House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Democrat James Oberstar (D-Minn.), suggested the first order of business for the discussions should be determining the overall level of investment the final bill would provides. He told his colleagues, "funding dictates policy." Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles (R-Okla.) expressed concern that the Senate bill was "not paid for" and would add to the federal deficit. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), however, reiterated his opinion that the Senate measure is fully self-financed.

Among the provisions adopted by conferees at the first meeting were:

* Continuation of the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program;

* Reauthorization of the Puerto Rico Highway Program;

* Allowing crime prevention and security to be considered eligible transit capital expenses;

* Repealing the Suspended Light Rail Technology Pilot Project;

* Continuation of current law regarding transit rolling stock acquisition and allowing transit grantees to select capital items based on factors other than price alone;

* Requiring state safety oversight to begin during the design phase of a transit system, as opposed to the current application which begins once the system is operational; and

* Establishing competition as the presumptive standard for transit procurement actions.

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