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Rumblings in Washington

Mobilizing the Region, 12-23-02 tstc@tstc.org

Republican Senate’s Impact on Transportation Transfer, 1-6-03 www.transact.org

As part of its TEA-21 reauthorization work, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Rep. Don Young of Alaska, is working on a plan to pay for estimated U.S. transportation system investment and maintenance needs over the next seven years. The plan proposes increasing gas taxes by 2 cents per gallon per year, totaling 30.4 cents per gallon by 2009, indexing the gas tax to the Consumer Price Index, which would generate about $18 billion from now until 2009, raising ethanol taxes, and reorganizing Highway Trust Fund interest and fuel taxes to help pay for projects (much of this revenue currently goes into the general fund).

The plan comes after the FTA estimated that $75 billion worth of maintenance work will be needed by 2009 to get the nation’s transportation systems into a state of good repair. An estimated $60 billion is needed to pay for maintenance on highways, up from $32 billion, while $12 billion is needed for transit, up from 7 billion. Note that this a 71% increase in transit maintenance spending and an 88% boost for roads.

Young hopes to have a bill finalized by March. However, the tax increase emphasis seems to reflect the internal preoccupations of the transportation world at the expense of the broader political climate. To put it mildly, it seems very un-Bush-like. The administration says it will release its proposed “TEA-3” legislation early next year, along with its 2004 budget.

Separately, Sen. John McCain, set to chair the Senate Commerce Committee, said he would convene hearings on Amtrak reform next year.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) will ascend to chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, replacing Senator James Jeffords (I-VT) who is slated to become the panel's Ranking Minority Member. While the new Committee Chair has not yet publicly announced his agenda for the panel, Inhofe has pledged to make renewal of TEA-21 a top priority.

While regarded as an outspoken critic of the Clean Air Act or other environmental statutes, generally urging more attention to better science and costs and benefits, Inhofe has already indicated that any legislative proposals to amend the Clean Air Act will be taken up by the Committee after completing action on TEA-21.

Foremost on his TEA-21 agenda will be correcting what he perceives are funding imbalances among the states, often called the donor/donee issue (i.e. Oklahoma contributes more highway- related tax dollars than it gets back in program spending). This concern is one that he shares with Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), the new incoming chair of the panel's Subcommittee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Nuclear Safety.

Inhofe is also expected to pursue TEA-21 proposals that would emphasize highway capacity improvements, including provisions to streamline applicable environmental and other rules to move such projects forward more expeditiously. Public and environmental review processes, transportation and air quality conformity provisions, and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program are among several issues that are expected to receive particular attention by the new chairman during Committee action on legislation renewing TEA-21.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is slated to take the reins of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, the panel with jurisdiction over the transit title of TEA 21. Shelby, in his capacity as a leading appropriator on transportation funding issues has been extensively involved in transit and other transportation funding issues.

[Despite] McCain’s past calls for rail privatization, many Republican senators retain a basic ambivalence about killing Amtrak off. “We’ve got to have a commitment by Amtrak that it’s going to be a national system,” Texas’ Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison told Gannett [newspapers]. She said the company devotes too much money and attention on the Northeast. “There’s got to be an evening-out of the resources.”

In the past, Shelby has been a strong proponent of "minimum allocation" proposals governing the distribution of federal transit funds, measures aimed at ensuring a minimum level of transit funding among states and transit providers, independent of transit capacity and service levels.

Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO), who is expected to take over from Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) as chair of the Banking Subcommittee on Housing and Transportation, has also previously championed minimum allocation provisions.


TEA-3 Timeline:


108th Congress convenes; Bush administration to submit TEA-21 renewal bill to Congress.


House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to introduce TEA-21 renewal package. Senate schedule uncertain, but goal is to have final bill by September 30.

February 17-21 Congress in recess, members available in districts ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡

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