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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis February 10, 2012
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House Proposal Threatens Public Transportation; Eliminating the Mass Transit Account Means End of Dedicated Funding Source
BY CHAD CHITWOOD, Program Manager-Communications

Provisions of the surface transportation bill (H.R. 3847) advanced Feb. 3 by the House Ways and Means Committee (W&M) would jeopardize public transportation and American jobs. The committee seeks to end the traditional dedicated source of funding for public transportation, replacing it with a one-time appropriation.

Motor fuels tax revenues have been a historical source of funding for public transportation for almost 30 years. The W&M proposal would end a dedicated and predictable source of funding and replace it with a one-time appropriation to a newly created “Alternative Transportation Account” that would be funded only through 2016. This action would imperil the ability of public transportation systems to get the best rates possible when requesting bond funding to support capital funding.

Further, this one-time appropriation of $40 billion does not even fully fund the authorized program, even if the money was authorized each year over the life of the bill.

On the Senate side, the Finance Committee voted Feb. 7 to approve its title to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) legislation. By a bipartisan vote of 17-6 (with one member voting present), the final Senate committee with jurisdiction over the surface transportation programs has acted.

During the debate in the Senate Finance Committee, members discussed the need to find a long-term solution to funding U.S. transportation projects. While there was no consensus on that issue, members expressed frustration with having to rely on one-time offsets to pay for the two-year MAP-21 legislation.

In addition, the committee adopted a one-year restoration of the public transit commuter benefit at the $240 monthly level; this benefit expired at the end of 2011, reducing the monthly funding level to $120. This does not guarantee a quick resolution, however. Debate on a bill of this size could take several weeks on the Senate floor.

Last week, APTA took several steps to address concerns with the W&M portion of the House bill.

Gary C. Thomas, APTA chair and president & CEO of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, said: “We have an obligation and a responsibility to make sure our congressmen and congresswomen know how we feel about this. We have a responsibility to make sure they know what the impact would be specifically to our organizations, our customers and the constituencies we serve, and to our stakeholders and elected officials to understand the impact this bill would have. This bill affects our agencies, our customers, and the people who ride our systems every day.”

APTA President & CEO Michael P. Melaniphy stated: “Our covenant with the taxpayers is under attack and we urge all in APTA’s network to mobilize—we cannot let this challenge stand. This proposal seeks to undo nearly 30 years of overwhelming bipartisan support for dedicated federal investment in public transportation.”

Other committees on the Hill have not proposed action as drastic as the steps suggested by W&M. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s bill—H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012—funds public transportation at current levels for five years and does not address the issue of accounts. Meanwhile, two Senate committees, Banking and Environment and Public Works (EPW), would continue funding at current levels in two-year bills. The Senate Finance Committee’s legislation provides solvency for the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund and retains the traditional Mass Transit Account, as opposed to W&M’s proposal to end it in favor of a one-time appropriation.

APTA has created a variety of resources and tools that its members can use to keep up to date on this issue, and urges its members to contact their congressional representatives in Washington. APTA is running full-page ads in five Congressional newspapers promoting support of public transportation, calling for the continuation of the current funding model, instituted by President Ronald Reagan. (To see this ad, click here.)

APTA continues to coordinate with its many coalition partners to create messages and campaigns that will direct attention to press for the defeat of the W&M proposal. A recent coalition letter signed by more than 600 organizations was sent to the Hill supporting a pro-public transportation bill.

Webinar, Media Call, Additional Outreach
APTA created a special webinar for its members Feb. 7 to help brief them on the many nuances of the House proposal. More than 350 APTA members participated, many of whom had questions and voiced concerns over the proposal. APTA will continue to inform its members of breaking news in the coming weeks. To view this webinar, click here.

On Feb. 8, APTA held a national media call with partners and industry experts that detailed the legislative action to date and took questions from reporters from across the country. The lack of a dedicated funding source came up in reporters’ questions a number of times, as did the support of voters in pro-public transportation ballot initiatives over the past 12 years. During the call, APTA also rolled out its newest report, which takes a closer look at the impacts of the W&M legislation.

The report outlines the negative financial effects the proposal would have on America’s public transportation systems, as well as on the communities and individuals that rely on public transportation. The report—House Proposal Erodes Credit Ratings, Ties Hands of American Communities—is available here.

The report notes that federal funding is essential for attracting reliable state and local funding; removing dedicated funds from public transportation would discourage state and local governments from contributing to public transit system operations and increases in services. Federal support focuses on capital projects, thereby encouraging local and state support. William D. Ankner, Ph.D., a contributor to the report and a participant in the media call, is an expert in transportation financing and former state transportation secretary in Louisiana and Rhode Island. He described how the proposal would increase uncertainty and impact the ability of public transportation agencies to secure bonded funding for long-term projects.

“Agencies around the nation could experience higher costs associated with routine bond issuances necessary to operate a transit system,” Ankner said. These cost increases, he added, will lead to deferred maintenance, fewer transit system extensions, and higher fares, threatening to derail the public transportation program.

In addition, on APTA’s web site, members can find many resources and tools that will help them take part in the campaign to protect public transportation funding. Legislative Alerts and Updates will keep them apprised of changes in the legislation and the status of the bills as they work their way through Congress. APTA is working with members of the House and Senate to address issues in the bill.

Also on the web site are sample letters to Congress for public transit system members and business members to complete and send to their legislators. Systems and business members must be involved in the campaign, and sending letters to their members of Congress and senators as well as calling them is one clear approach they can use to make their thoughts known. The most effective way to influence members of Congress is to tell them that their constituents are watching and that their vote will affect jobs and lives in their district.

APTA encourages its members to urge mayors and local elected officials to call and write to Congress on behalf of public transportation interests in the surface transportation bill. APTA members should urge their staff to contact their congressional delegation and use their facilities and web sites to promote riders sharing their stories of public transportation. Members should also set up meetings with their members of Congress while it is in recess.

In addition to the sample letters on APTA’s web site, members can find backgrounders and fact sheets that allow them to customize letters with details and information that can intensify the impact for their elected officials. These facts are also useful for pushing information out on social media networks. Another suggestion is for fans on Facebook and Twitter to visit the APTA Facebook page, where they can send letters to officials and learn the latest news, as well as see updates through Twitter. Any and all of these actions will let Congress know that ending the Mass Transit Account is unacceptable.

Melaniphy said in the Feb. 8 media call: “This proposed tax title by the Ways and Means Committee will have a profound negative impact on public transit systems, private business, and the communities they serve.”

As Passenger Transport went to press, the situation in Washington was still in flux. However, a few activities were anticipated in the coming days.

The Senate is expected to vote on a motion that would permit consideration of the EPW portion of the bill before the end of the week of Feb. 13. In the House, the Rules Committee issued the “Rules Committee Print” that outlines rules governing debate on the House version of the bill and requires amendments to be submitted to the committee by Feb. 13 before the hearing is held.
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