A tremendous amount of activity has occurred over the past
two weeks on reauthorization. The next three weeks before
Congress recesses for the week-long Presidents Day holiday,
also look to be extremely busy. What all this activity means
is still hard to tell.
With no decisions reached yet on how to fund the bill, the
whole reauthorization effort still could easily implode, postponing
consideration into 2005. On the other hand, strong congressional
leadership interest in the bill - coupled with significant
grassroots activity could force a deal, permitting
the bill to move quickly.
Outlined below are various activities in the major committees
of jurisdiction. Some of the information is fact, a lot of
it is pure rumor, but at this point rumors can be as important
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
The number of co-sponsors of the committees TEA LU bill
is now up to 102.
The committee still tentatively is scheduled to mark up HR
3550 in subcommittee on February 3 and in full committee February
There still is no word from Speaker Hastert about his plan
for financing the bill, but rumor has it the size of his potential
plan has dropped from approximately $350 billion (as compared
to the TEA LU level of $375 billion) to $320 billion or even
lower to $311 billion (the same level as proposed in the senate).
It will not include a tax increase, but is expected to guarantee
the funding levels and propose some sort of bonding mechanism.
The big activity this week in the committee was the start
of the project earmarking process. The committee has decided
to combine the $15 billion for highway high priority projects
with the $5 billon in transit bus earmarks for a total earmarked
pot of approximately $20 billion. The pot was split 55% to
Republicans and 45% to Democrats to distribute. Republican
staff began to make calls last week to individual members
to give them their allocations.
Committee members and other congressional leaders will receive
more money than rank and file members. In general, members
have about 48 hours to report back which projects they want
to use their allocations for. Although all members were asked
to submit project requests this time last year, it does not
appear that members are being held to those specific projects
The committee staff and leadership continue to meet to resolve
remaining policy issues. This week they addressed planning,
environmental streamlining, transit and public/private ventures.
Many of these issues were under debate when the bill was introduced
last fall and were reserved in the original bill
Final language likely will be added to the bill as part of
a managers amendment either at full or subcommittee
House Ways & Means Committee
This committee must come up with the revenue plan for the
House T&I Committee bill, presumably before it can go
to the House floor. The committee leadership strongly opposes
a gas tax increase. There is no word on when the committee
expects to act.
Senate Environment & Public Works Committee
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist still hopes to bring the
TEA-21 bill to the Senate floor the week of February 2. It
is unclear whether the Senate Finance and Banking Committee
titles will be ready for consideration at that time or only
the EPW highway title. It is expected that the bill will be
on the floor for a number of days since hundreds of amendments
are anticipated, especially from senators who feel their states
will lose out under the proposed funding formulas.
The big news out of the EPW Committee was the meeting Chairman
Inhofe (R-OK) had with Senators to give them the chart showing
how he proposes to calculate state highway formula distributions
and to explain how his equity bonus program would
work. The goal of the equity bonus, which replaces
the current minimum guarantee program, is to increase
the donor/donee rate of return from the current 90.5% to 95%.
As expected there are some winners and some losers. A number
of states such as New York and Pennsylvania will see their
funding levels drop over the life of the bill. Some donor
states, such as California and Texas, will see their share
jump to 95% but only in the final years of the bill. While
the list is certainly creating cries of opposition from perceived
losers, Inhofe feels he has the 60 votes he needs
to approve his plan on the floor.
Senate Banking Committee
The Banking Committee has jurisdiction over the transit title
of the bill. The transit title has not yet been introduced
or marked up. The committee plans to wait until after the
Senate Finance Committee acts on the revenue title before
the committee will unveil its bill.
Banking committee leaders remain concerned about the Finance
Committees previous efforts to propose the so-called
Baucus Grassley plan to replace transit gas tax
revenue with tax credit bonds. It appears this proposal is
dead, but the Banking Committee isnt taking any chances.
Rumor has it the banking title may not guarantee the general
fund portion of transit funding which if true would be a severe
set back for the program.
Senate Finance Committee
Everyone is waiting with baited breath to see how the Finance
Committee proposes to fund the $311B Senate bill. It appears
that they will not be recommending a gas tax increase or bonding.
Instead they will propose a mix of miscellaneous revenue sources.
One rumored source of revenue is to change the current tax
exemption for public sector and non-profit agencies to a tax
credit which would be funded by the general fund. Also, possible
is a recommendation for the transfer of up to $16 billion
from the general fund, to be paid back at a later date.
The committee was scheduled to mark up the finance title
on Wednesday (Jan. 28) in order to be ready for floor action
the week of February 2.
This week in a speech to the U.S Conference of Mayors, USDOT
Secretary Norm Mineta reiterated the Administrations
strong opposition to a gas tax increase.
DOT was expected to support an increase in the size of its
SAFETEA bill as part of its FY2005 budget submission, but
that may no longer happen. It has been rumored that if DOT
proposes an increase, it would only be a very modest jump
over their proposed level of $247 billion, perhaps only to
By Chris Zeilinger
Community Transportation Association of America
Apparently, some snags are being worked out in the Senate's
deal for financing the federal transit program through FY
2009. So, the Finance and Banking Committee sessions to draft
the revenue and transit portions of TEA-21 reauthorization
have been pushed back a week, to February 2, 3 or 4.
Curiously, Senate floor debate on the reauthorization
bill is slated to begin at the same time.
Meanwhile, copies of the Banking Committee's preliminary draft
for the transit reauthorization are circulating through cyberspace.
If one of these files lands in your e-mail, you'll see that
it is lacking the dollar figures and percentages for most
programs, which is probably what we'd most like to see right
The word from the rumor mill is that Banking
Committee members were given through this Thursday, Jan. 29,
to get their suggested amendments filed with chairman Richard
The Senate is expected to take up reauthorization of the federal
highway, highway safety, motor carrier safety and transit
programs the week of Feb. 2. Of the four committees that have
jurisdiction over components to the bill Environment
and Public Works (highways), Commerce (highway safety and
motor carriers), Banking (transit), and Finance (financing
and the Highway Trust Fund) only the first two have
completed work on their respective bills.
The Banking and Finance committees are expected
to mark up and report their measures next week. Based on past
experience, as many as 200 amendments to the Senate's SAFETEA
could be filed.