House To Drop Controversial Transit Provision

The decision is a victory for the transit community.
by | March 7, 2012

House lawmakers are expected to drop a controversial provision from their stalled transportation legislation that would have eliminated a dedicated funding stream for transit.

The decision came after a GOP conference today, where it was decided that the House's current five-year, $260 billion highway and transit bill will be the focus of its leadership's efforts to pass transportation legislation, according to an announcement from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica's office.

Mica said that both House leaders and he have agreed that the legislation, which his committee approved in February, is the best option going forward.

In recent days, there was been speculation about how House Republicans would pass a bill, given division among their own ranks about the legislation and the progress being made on the Senate's bill. There had been some talk of crafting shorter-term legislation, and House Speaker John Boehner recently threatened to simply have his chamber take up the Senate's bill.

Mica said that the revival of his legislation will include some changes. Among those are plans to eliminate a provision that was added in by the House Ways & Means Committee, which would have scrapped the dedicated funding for transit that comes from the federal gas tax.

Transit advocates, as well as some Republicans from areas with transit systems, objected to those changes, saying they put the future of America's transit at the whims of the appropriations process.

Since House Democrats have lined up against the Mica bill, it's critical for House leadership to have agreement among Republicans on the legislation. The elimination of a measure viewed by many as anti-transit could help achieve that goal.

As it stands, about 2.86 cents of the 18.3 cent gasoline tax goes to an account that funds transit systems across the country. In February, the Ways & Means Committee included a provision that would give that account a one-time, $40 billion injection but prevent future fuel taxes from going into it.

Transit advocates said the move would be disastrous and jeopardize the future of the country's transit projects, since after 2016, the account's funding situation would become uncertain.

The committee, however, characterized the move as a way to preserve transit money, since that same transit account is expected to no longer be able to meet its financial obligations at some point in the 2014 fiscal year.

The latest extension to the current highway and transit legislation expires at the end of the month. Congress must pass a new bill or another extension by then, or risk seeing work on transportation projects across the country come to a halt.

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