With the most recent MAP-21 surface transportation bill extension about to expire on July 31, 2015, Congress passed another short-term extension that will keep federal public transportation and highway programs operating through October 29, 2015. After the Senate passage of a six year bill in late July, the focus is now on the House of Representatives this fall. Senate leaders had hoped to have the House adopt the Senate-passed bill before the August recess, but House leaders indicated that they wanted to write their own bill, which would then go to a House/Senate conference committee to produce a compromise package.
House leaders have said they want to draft their own finance title that might include tax reforms, as well as their own titles on transit and highway policy, and that they needed more time to do that. Passage of a long-term bill by the Senate in late July was somewhat unexpected, as many had predicted that it would take several months for each of the Houses to find the multi-year financing needed. The Senate-passed bill authorizes six years of federal transit and highway spending, as well as rail programs, but it provides only enough funding for the first three years of the bill. The Senate-passed bill increases transit funding by almost 9 percent in year one, and by nearly 25 percent over the six-year authorization. While the Senate bill does not provide as much funding growth as the industry had proposed, it was viewed as a good first step in the process of moving a well-funded, long-term bill. Additionally, the Senate-passed bill includes a passenger rail safety title, while the House has previously passed separate passenger rail legislation.
As Members of Congress from both the House and Senate spend August in their home districts, it is important for public transportation advocates to convey the urgent need for Congress to complete the process of writing legislation that authorizes increased investment for federal transit and highway programs under a multi-year surface transportation bill. Please recognize that, while your focus may be on adequate investment in public transportation, Congress writes a bill that funds, and provides financing for, investment in both public transportation and highways. With House action on a bill expected during September, we ask that APTA members make this point at town meetings during the August recess, as well as in letters sent to your elected officials in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Please be sure to make the following points in letters that you write or town meetings you attend during the August congressional recess:
- Thank Senators for advancing a six-year authorization bill that increases investment in public transportation.
- While we appreciate that Congress has prevented a disruption of federal transit and highway programs at the height of the construction season, the House of Representatives needs to pass a long-term surface transportation bill that increases investment in public transportation, and increases the dedicated revenues that go into the Highway Trust Fund to support transit and highway spending. This bill needs to be approved as soon as possible, so that the House and Senate can send a bill to the president for his signature before the current extension expires at the end of October.
- Long-term, predictable funding for the federal program is needed so that states and local governments, working with the federal government, can maintain, rehabilitate, and expand our existing public transportation infrastructure which serves millions of Americans daily. The U.S. DOT has identified a one-time backlog in transit capital investment needs of $86 billion just to bring the existing system into a state of good repair. That figure does not include the ongoing costs of replacing buses and maintaining rail systems, the cost of building new systems, or the cost of operating existing transit service.
- Based on our growing population, and the growing demand for public transportation service, we need to invest more, not less in our transportation infrastructure.
- Investment in the nation's transportation systems will create jobs and provide the underpinning for a healthy dynamic economy in the years ahead. In contrast, failure to maintain and modernize our transportation systems will undermine economic prosperity in our communities and the nation. It will cost the country more in the long run if we let these valuable assets deteriorate to the point where they must be rebuilt.
- We need a long-term bill because we cannot build the major capital projects, which often take years to plan and build, under three and six month extensions of the federal program. States and communities need the predictability of a long-term federal program to address our transportation needed in a cost-efficient and practical way.
- Passage of a multi-year bill should also include authorized funding to advance passenger rail projects and safety enhancements.
- Please include the specific capital needs and projects at your system that would be funded under a long-term bill. Private sector members should include how federal funds will benefit or impact your business.
A list of congressional town meetings scheduled in communities around the nation is linked here