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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis December 14, 2012
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2012: Moving Forward on Legislative Issues

This past year was an exciting time for the public transportation industry, with APTA and its members leading the way on several important issues.

In early February, while public transit programs operated under an extension of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act-A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), committees in both the House and Senate released draft proposals of surface transportation authorization bills that would replace SAFETEA-LU. The proposals funded the federal public transit program at levels equal to or slightly above annual SAFETEA-LU levels, with the Senate proposing a two-year bill and the House a five-year bill.

However, shortly after the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released its bill, the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the tax title for the House bill, proposed eliminating both the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund and the dedication of current motor fuels taxes that go to the Mass Transit Account to support FTA programs. This proposal would have reversed 30 years of policy under which a portion of federal motor fuels taxes have been used to fund part of the federal transit program.

After three weeks of intense lobbying by APTA members, staff, and coalition partners, and objections from a significant number of majority party members, the House leadership dropped the effort to eliminate dedicated funding for the federal transit program.

More recently, Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which authorizes federal surface transportation programs for Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014. The public transportation title of MAP-21 sets public transportation funding levels at approximately $10.6 billion in FY 2013 and $10.7 billion in FY 2014.

While the full implementation of MAP-21 will not happen until a full year appropriations bill is adopted, many of the programmatic changes APTA sought in a new authorization bill will eventually be realized.

The 2012 APTA Annual Meeting in Seattle included a heavily attended panel session with key Congressional staffers. APTA members and staff were excited by the opportunity to ask questions about MAP-21 implementation, and received invaluable insights from the information these staffers provided.

However, with MAP-21 authorizing federal surface transportation programs for only two years, APTA has already begun to look toward the next authorization process. APTA Legislative Committee Chairman Jeff Nelson approached APTA Chair Flora Castillo and President & CEO Michael Melaniphy, and together they agreed to establish a new Authorization Task Force under the Legislative Committee.

The task force met for the first time Dec. 7 in Washington: APTA members gathered to begin deciding how to approach the next authorizing bill. The task force, co-chaired by five APTA members and open to any member looking to contribute to the authorization process, will work to address the numerous industry issues and both the general principles and details of the next bill.

MAP-21 does not include a title dealing specifically with passenger rail issues, and with next year’s expiration of both the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) and the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA), numerous issues must be resolved in the coming months. At the top of the list is rail safety, including requirements for the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) on the nation’s commuter railroads. As a result, APTA’s Commuter and Intercity Rail Legislative Subcommittee will work on a separate effort to develop recommendations related to the reauthorization of RSIA and PRIIA.

Beyond Authorization
Beyond the authorization bill, APTA has been working with Congress to find solutions to a number of other important issues.

Michael P. DePallo, chief executive officer, Southern California Regional Rail Authority, and chairman, APTA Security Affairs Steering Committee, testified about proposed changes to the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP) in March before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, and in April before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications.

Public transit remains one of the largest potential terrorism targets, and the TSGP provides transit providers with capital funding for security preparedness. Proposed changes to the program would potentially make it more difficult for agencies to receive the funding they require to protect against potential attacks.

APTA staff members also have been working hard on tax issues: specifically, restoring the commuter public transit tax benefit to parity with the parking tax benefit and continuing the alternative fuels tax credit. Both items are crucial to the industry.

In October, the Senate Finance Committee reported out a bill in that would extend both provisions through 2013. However, the fate of that legislation rests with the ultimate negotiations between the White House and Congress over how to resolve the “fiscal cliff.”

APTA has continued to work on Capitol Hill and with its coalition partners in advocating the continued need for federal investment in transportation, stressing the existence of a “transportation investment deficit” and that our nation’s economic future depends on a robust and efficient transportation network.

Continued advocacy for transportation investment and federal policy beneficial to public transportation will undoubtedly continue into 2013, especially as Congress continues to address issues related to the national debt and deficit and reform of U.S. tax policy.

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