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Public Transportation's Legislative Agenda

As APTA’s member organizations look to the New Year and plan their advocacy in the federal arena, they face familiar challenges and opportunities in a new Congress led by Republican majorities in both houses.

Like last year, the industry must work with Congress to rewrite an authorization bill for federal public transit and highway programs. Congress will need to find a funding solution for an authorization bill that supports growth of the current program and multiyear predictability, and the bill will inevitably deal with a variety of program details that are important to the industry as well.

Also, since Congress passed only short-term, retroactive extensions of several key public transit tax provisions, those too will be on APTA’s legislative agenda. On the commuter rail front, Congress is likely to consider authorizing language for Amtrak and revisit the statutory requirements relating to the installation of positive train control (PTC) systems on the nation’s passenger and freight railroads.

Congress set the stage for action on an authorization bill when it extended the MAP-21 authorization law (which was set to expire Sept. 30, 2014) through May 31. With current dedicated revenues short of what was needed to fund even existing federal transit and highway program levels, Congress opted to pass a bill that deposited enough general revenues into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to keep both programs operating through this spring.

Congressional leaders from both houses have said they want to write a long-term bill that provides the multiyear predictability needed to build the kind of major capital transit and highway projects the federal program supports. Many have expressed concern about the lack of a long-term bill, as well as the use of general funds to keep the program operating under short-term extensions, which is essentially deficit spending.

On the other hand, Congress has been unwilling for many years to raise federal gasoline and diesel taxes that are deposited into the HTF and used for public transit and highways. As a result, an estimated $100 billion in new revenues is now needed just to support current program levels. Even bigger revenue increases will be required to increase transit investment to levels that address the backlog of state of good repair needs and the demand for new facilities to serve growing ridership.

If Congress cannot extend the authorization by the end of May, DOT would have to make major cuts in federal transit and highway programs at the start of next summer’s construction season. The big question is whether Congress can raise the revenues through an increase in federal motor fuels taxes or some other mechanism to fund a multiyear bill.

APTA will continue to advocate for a bill throughout the spring, concluding with “Stand Up for Transportation Day” rallies across the nation on April 9. (Find details at the APTA website.) Advocacy efforts will include educating members of Congress on the benefits of such investment and will call attention to the fact that the nation’s failure to invest now will only result in higher costs in the long run. APTA will also continue to work with its coalition partner organizations in ­Washington.

So, while public transit advocates will need to make an effective case in Washington, DC, for a strong federal program, they are also likely to be plenty of opportunities as Congress considers transportation legislation throughout the year.
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