Not long after we posted about promising developments with the House surface transportation reauthorization bill, the story took a startling turn.
It was announced that the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee is proposing to divert $25 billion in dedicated fuels tax revenues from the Mass Transit Account as part of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 7). This would mean that transit would be forced to compete for general funds each year to receive any federal funding. However, according to the American Public Transportation Association, this change represents nearly 50 percent of the federal investment in public transit authorized by the House surface transportation bill.
ASCE believes that transit is a critical component of a comprehensive transportation network, and has long supported the principle that 20 percent of the gas tax revenues that have been put in place since 1982 be allocated to a dedicated mass transit account. The new House provision represents a major change to surface transportation funding mechanisms. ASCE submitted a letter late today to the Ways and Means Committee opposing the provision, and joined a coalition including the Chamber of Commerce and the National League of Cities in signing a separate letter from Transportation for America voicing similar concerns.
In brighter news for transit, today the Senate Banking Committee approved the Federal Public Transportation Act of 2012. The bill passed with unanimous bipartisan support and reauthorizes federal transit funding for two years. Among the bill’s reforms is a provision to establish a State of Good Repair program to assist local transit agencies with a backlog of maintenance needs. The bill will now go to the full Senate. As we saw today, stark differences are emerging between the two bills advancing in the House and Senate.
The last-minute controversial additions to the House bill delay a process that must move forward quickly to avoid another short-term extension for federal surface transportation funding.