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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Surface transportation legislation revisions still unclear, Mica says


In a speech yesterday to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) members, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said several options for revisions to the House’s surface transportation legislation are being discussed.

But after talking with House Speaker John Boehner on Monday, Mica still didn’t know what the final options will be, including the number of years the bill would cover, he said.

Press reports earlier this month claimed that Boehner was considering a shorter and less expensive bill than the original five-year $260 billion legislation that Mica introduced earlier this year.

“The final proposal I cannot tell you exactly where we will be,” Mica said, adding that he is pushing for the bill to cover “as long a term as possible” to give stability to surface transportation and infrastructure planning.

Mica also said he was “befuddled” over some of the objections to the legislation, including a measure that would remove the Mass Transit Account from the federal Highway Trust Fund. That proposal, which was passed by the House Ways and Means Committee, calls for ending a nearly 30-year practice of using a portion of federal gas taxes to fund transit agencies. Instead, the Ways and Means Committee’s proposal would create a separate fund through which transit agencies could compete for funding.

American Public Transportation Association (APTA) officials have lobbied hard against that idea, stating that ending the Mass Transit Account would leave transit agencies without a dedicated and dependable source of federal funding.

However, Mica noted that the federal highway fund has been operating at an annual deficit in recent years, as gas tax revenue can no longer keep pace with the program’s costs due to more fuel-efficient motor vehicles.

“This Congress is going to have some means of paying for any of its expenditures,” Mica said. “That’s a given, folks. Anyone who thinks it will get better after this next [presidential] election, you are smoking the funny weed.”

He also said the transit industry’s stand on the bill was “regrettable.”

Meanwhile, the Senate this week resumed consideration of S. 1813, the chamber’s proposed $109 billion, two-year surface transportation bill. Prior to the Presidents’ Day recess in Congress, the bill got bogged down in debate over amendments unrelated to transportation.

In order to move the bill’s consideration forward, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has agreed to allow amendments to be debated starting on Thursday, including the so-called “Blunt Amendment.” Introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the amendment would enable employers to make “moral” objections to including certain benefits such as contraceptives in health insurance plans under the federal health reform law.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/29/2012