The U.S. Senate’s six-year $350-billion proposed transportation bill has taken on miasmatic qualities, as lawmakers persist in altering its terms in advance of a vote. This has, however, lead to what could potentially be a boon to the public transit sector, as lawmakers shifted more funds to transit at the expense of highway programs and dropped some proposed revenue-raising mechanisms.
House leaders haven’t embraced the pending Senate bill. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Democratic minority leader, said that that with the current highway-transit authorization due to expire on July 31, another extension is likely. The Senate highway-transit bill’s advocates, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is majority leader, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the Environment and Public Works Committee’s top Democrat, have revised some provisions in order to gain more support. Transit advocates scored a big win, convincing McConnell and Boxer to increase funding for public transportation.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who helped lead the transit push, said in a July 23 statement: “We fought back an effort to shortchange American commuters who depend on public transportation to get to their jobs and contribute to the economy.” The initial iteration of the bill, titled the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act (DRIVE), provided $3.2 billion in new revenue to highways and $200 million to transit. Brown and his allies were able to get the transit share bumped up to $815 million.
McConnell and Boxer looked to the highway side of the bill for offsetting reductions. They sliced the allotment for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) federal loan program by $50 million a year, to an annual total off $450 million. They also trimmed a new major-projects program by $50 million annually.
The Senate voted on July 24 to proceed with debate on the bill, keeping the measure moving.
If the bill continues to progress to final Senate passage before the July 31 deadline, it may have problems in the House, which on July 15 approved a five-month $8-billion extension to continue highway and transit programs through Dec. 18. Its sponsors said the extra months will give them time to draft a multi-year bill.
According to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who spoke at a July 23 press briefing, “There’s a lot of concern being raised by our committee chairmen and others about the policy that is contained in the bill the Senate is considering. We don’t know what that bill’s going to look like until they pass it. And until they do, I just want to reserve judgment on how we’ll proceed.”