March 15, 2010
Job opportunities in this issue's classifieds include a public transit agency president/CEO and executive director of a national program!
The Legislative Process for Public Transit: A Whirlwind of Activity on Numerous Fronts
BY J. BARRY BARKER, Executive Director, Transit Authority of River City, Louisville, KY, and APTA Vice Chair-Government Affairs
With the APTA Legislative Conference convening this weekend, I wanted to take a look back at where we’ve been, where we are, and—most importantly—where we’re going.
The past year has been an incredibly complicated one, a whirlwind of legislative activity kicked off by debate on the economic stimulus bill that ultimately provided $8.4 billion for public transportation and $8 billion for high-speed rail.
Nearly simultaneously, Congress was finalizing its omnibus Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 Appropriations bill that provided $10.2 billion for public transit and $90 million for intercity passenger rail, a modest increase over the FY 2008 enacted levels.
The appropriations bill for FY 2010, which was finalized late in 2009, again came in the form of a larger combined bill that provided nearly flat funding of $10.7 billion for public transit with an additional $2.5 billion for high-speed rail. Unfortunately, despite being appropriated by Congress, the FY 2010 funding cannot be fully accessed because of the lack of authorizing legislation.
Most notably, 2009 also saw the expiration of SAFETEA-LU. At midnight on Oct, 1, 2009, the bill that authorized transit and highway programs lapsed. Since its expiration, Congress has enacted four short-term extensions, resulting in uncertainty for recipients of federal transit funds.
Prior to the expiration, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-MN) released the Surface Transportation Act of 2009, a comprehensive legislative proposal that would provide $450 billion for transit and highways and $50 billion for high-speed rail; however, no compromise could be reached on how to fund the program.
Moving forward, our number one priority is completing a long-term authorization bill. This legislation will provide the predictable funding source needed by our members to ensure continued operations. In the absence of an agreement on how to pay for a six-year bill, we support a year-long authorization extension that will allow for apportionments to be made on a regular basis.
Authorization aside, the president has released his FY 2011 budget proposal, requesting near-flat funding for transit at $10.8 billion, an additional $1 billion for high-speed rail, and $300 million for public transportation and railroad security grants. Noticeably absent from the Administration’s request was funding to implement positive train control (PTC) technologies.
Two issues that dominated Congressional discussions in 2009 were climate change and job creation legislation. The Senate climate change proposal would have benefited transit by directing a modest percentage of funds received from the auctioning of cap-and-trade emission allowances toward public transportation investments, while the House proposal sought to direct funding toward public transit investment—though at a considerably lower percentage. Despite lengthy debate and intense negotiations, the highly differing bills did not generate consensus and, unfortunately, have not yet advanced beyond consideration in their respective chambers.
As we get word that the Senate is looking to create a new plan with bipartisan input, this year we expect Congress to take a fresh look at climate change and energy legislation, seeking new strategies to finance transit projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We also anticipate the livable communities initiative will remain in the forefront as Congress, DOT, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency work to promote innovative ideas to develop sustainable communities.
Jobs creation legislation was another hotly debated topic, with Congress seeking ways to create and sustain jobs to stimulate the economy.
In 2009, this came from the House in the form of the Jobs for Main Street Act, a bill that not only would provide an additional $8.4 billion for transit, but also included an extension of SAFETEA-LU through the end of FY 2010, as well as an infusion of cash to ensure solvency of the transit and highway accounts of the Highway Trust Fund. The House and Senate have not yet been able to reach a compromise on this particular bill.
In 2010, we expect to see quick movement on several jobs bills. Earlier this year, the Senate introduced the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act that will provide an extension of SAFETEA-LU through Dec. 31, 2010, as well as a transfer of funds to the Highway Trust Fund to ensure solvency through the end of FY 2011 (but does not include additional funding for transit as does the House bill). We also anticipate a second jobs bill to be introduced in the Senate, benefiting our transit providers by extending through December 2010 volumetric excise tax credits that provide much-needed tax breaks to our members who use compressed natural gas to fuel their vehicles. While it is unclear at this point whether the Senate intends to take up a third jobs bill that will provide new funding for transportation, APTA is actively supporting such a measure.
And finally, 2009 also brought a shift in APTA legislative policy with the adoption of new policies and an amendment to APTA’s Surface Transportation Authorization Recommendations. In addition to funding traditional transit priorities, the recommendations now include a policy supporting temporary operating subsidies from non-Highway Trust Fund monies, a result of the worsening economic situation and its impact on state and local transit aid.
Requesting that Congress provide temporary operating funding is critical to APTA members. Not only will these funds preserve existing jobs and create new ones, they will also allow transit providers to avoid reductions in service to their riders.
APTA adopted another new policy following the passage of the Rail Safety Act in 2008, mandating that all publicly operated passenger railroads implement PTC technologies by 2015 and authorizing $50 million in annual appropriations over five years to facilitate this rollout. A survey of APTA members, however, found the financial need to be significantly higher, totaling upwards of $2 billion for commuter railroads to meet the requirement by the federally imposed deadline. APTA has approved policy language requesting that Congress provide additional funds to achieve these safety requirements. Building off the significant federal investment, APTA also approved language that calls for $50 billion in non-Highway Trust Fund monies to be used toward the creation of a next-generation domestic high-speed rail network in the next transportation authorization bill.
One thing is for certain: with the 2010 Congressional midterm elections looming on the horizon, it is imperative that Congress act before the session is over to provide a long-term funding solution for our transportation needs, as well as to lay the groundwork for innovative new programs that can provide public transit with alternative sources of funding.