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House Passes Short-Term Authorization Extension to End of July
On Tuesday evening, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2353, a short-term authorization extension through July 31, 2015. The Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), passed by a vote of 387-35-1. This extension comes after several weeks of failed negotiations to find roughly $11 billion to fund the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) until the end of the calendar year. House and Senate leaders were unable to reach an agreement on offsets for a bill that would extend the programs through the end of the year, which was intended to give Congress time to form a larger tax reform package to pay for a multi-year surface transportation bill. Congress is scheduled to head home for the Memorial Day recess period.
Speaking before the House Rules Committee, Chairman Shuster said, "I believe that the Ways and Means Committee is working on tax reform. This will get us through to July, and we may have to very well push it out towards the end of the year to give them the time to do their work. And again, I think in a tax reform bill, that's where you're going to address this. Historically, that's where these things have been addressed."
Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) called on Members of Congress to make the tough decisions that they were sent to Washington to make and find a revenue source that can fund a long-term bill. He urged his colleagues to commit to solving the funding gap within the new extension period rather than seeking another extension to the end of the year. This sentiment was reiterated by several Representatives, all of whom cited the need for the stability and certainty of a long-term bill.
According to the most recent estimates from the Department of Transportation, the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund will still have $1.6 billion and the Highway Account will still have about $3.6 billion in cash on hand as of July 31. Absent additional action by Congress to address the Trust Fund balance (through transfers or additional revenues), the Mass Transit Account is projected to hit a zero balance sometime in late September or early October, with the Highway Account reaching a zero balance sometime in late August.
The two month extension bill, H.R. 2353, now heads to the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been preparing for a vote on the bill.
Senate Banking Committee Holds Roundtable Discussion of Low and No Emission Bus Policy
Also on Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee staff held a roundtable discussion focused on no and low emissions (NoLo) vehicles. The Senate Banking Committee had authorized the no and low emission bus research, development, demonstration, and deployment program as part of the Section 5312 Transit Research program in MAP-21. Participants in the Roundtable were asked to address how the program was operating and how it was contributing to the development and commercialization of new technologies such as electric, hybrid-electric, fuel cell and alternative fueled bus rolling stock. Issue of standards, procurement, and risk management for transit agencies were considered in the discussion as were the distinguishing factors between early stage development and the more market ready deployments. Other issues raised included the need for efforts to improve training for the workforce faced with maintaining new technologies, the education required at various levels including the Federal Transit Administration on aspects unique to the procurement of these new technologies, and the need to encourage confidence in transit agencies looking to procure new technologies and to provide them with flexibility in the use of funds when they do decide to acquire them.
The participants in the discussion were:
- Dan Raudebaugh, Executive Director, Center for Transportation and the Environment
- John Boesel, President, Calstart
- Joel Abraman, Director of Government Relations, New Flyer
- Ryan Popple, CEO, Proterra
- Macy Neshati , Vice President of Bus Sales, BYD
- Tom Webb, Director of Business Development and North American Sales, BAE
- Doran Barnes, Executive Director, Foothill Transit
- Keith Parker, General Manager and CEO, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA)
- Kirt Conrad, Executive Director and CEO, Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA)
Free Congress Foundation Opposes Devolution
On Tuesday afternoon in the Capitol, former Virginia Governor James Gilmore, the current President & CEO of the Free Congress Foundation, along with Michael Melaniphy, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and U.S. DOT Undersecretary for Policy Peter Rogoff, joined Jack Shenendorf, the former Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chief of Staff and author of the new report: "The Case Against Transportation Devolution: A Conservative Perspective" to brief congressional staff on the recently released report's findings.
All of the panelists emphasized the importance of federal programs that invest in the nation's surface transportation infrastructure and the need for congressional approval of a long-term, predictable surface transportation authorization bill. Panelists cited the need for a strong federal partner to help rebuild and maintain the nation's transit and highway systems, the many national benefits that are served by the federal program, and the high and growing costs of our potential failure to preserve these assets.