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Northeastern states trying to protect
transportation purse

New York's delegation works to save funds as Republicans look to reward other states

By Devlin Barrett
Associated Press

WASHINGTON – One of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's greatest achievements for New York is in danger of being whittled away as Congress works on a six-year, $375 billion transportation fund.

New York lawmakers and state officials are frantically working to protect their historically large share of the funds as Midwestern and Western lawmakers push to boost their cut at the expense of New York and other Northeastern states. All states would get increases under current proposals.

"It's a battle royal," said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-New Hartford.

Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee, said he is in the odd position of fighting his House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, "every step of the way, because he leads a group that, if they succeed, will cost New York $300 million a year."

The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, commonly referred to as IS-TEA or "ice tea," was the 1992 brainchild of the erudite Democrat from New York.

Moynihan, who died last March, crafted the five-year measure to build roads in the west while rebuilding aging roads and mass transit systems in New York and the Northeast.
In a sense, his plan worked too well because states like Texas have grown increasingly frustrated by getting less money out of the program than they pay into it.

When IS-TEA expired in the late 1990s, a six-year, $175 billion successor bill delivered about $1.25 to New York for every dollar in gasoline and transportation taxes the state sent to the federal government, thanks in part to efforts of then-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.

That program ended last year, and Congress approved a five-month extension, which expires at the end of February.

In one version of highway funding currently under consideration, New York's return would drop to $1.17 per dollar in the first year, and to just under $1 in 2009.

The money for mass transit is particularly critical to New York, because about a third of the nation's mass transit commuters are in the New York City area. Transit money also helps fund public bus lines in upstate cities like Rochester, Utica, Syracuse and Albany.

That funding appears most precarious at the moment, as lawmakers search for a guaranteed source of mass transit money.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's spokesman, Joe Householder, said current proposals are "greatly improved" over earlier numbers, but she would keep pushing to make it better. Gov. George Pataki has been phoning Republican leaders and meeting with some.

Some lawmakers, like Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., are focused on raising the overall amount to ensure New York gets more raw dollars than previously.

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