Economic Stimulus, Transit Funding

Stimulus Update: Nadler In, DeFazio Out, and Senate Rumblings

Peter DeFazio’s federal stimulus amendment — which, as we discussed yesterday, would have secured an additional $2 billion in the $825 billion stimulus plan for “transit energy assistance grants,” including transit operations — was unfortunately withdrawn yesterday. Thanks to all of you who phoned in yesterday to express your support for that amendment. But new days bring with them new amendments from Representatives who are justifiably disturbed by a stimulus plan that casts its eye backward to the 1950s, rather than forward to a greener and more sustainable future. The current pro-transit amendment on the table is the one offered by Jerry Nadler (D-New York), which would add $3 billion of transit capital funds to the currently allocated $9 billion transit total, thereby bringing the bill back in line with the $12 billion that Jim Oberstar’s proposal had originally envisioned for transit (this excludes upgrades to intercity rail).

In addition to the Nadler amendment, two further House amendments have been introduced that would increase the funding allocation to rail: a $3.9 billion addition from Representative Corrine Brown (Florida) and a $500 million addition by Representative Hare (Illinois). Amendments are flying, and obviously the more funding we can get for transit and rail, the better. As with the DeFazio amendment, the timeline is very quick; please call Louise Slaughter (202.225.3615) to get the amendment through the Rules Committee, and the offices of Nancy Pelosi (202.225.4965) and David Obey (202.225.4965) to express your support for the inclusion of Nadler’s amendment, and to emphasize why it is so important to ensure our nation’s transit systems receive the boost in funding. The discussion over these amendments is happening today, basically in the next few hours, so time is of the essence.

In the meantime, the Senate is also working through the stimulus bill, and the Senate markup is somewhat different from the House’s version. Here are some of the basic transportation-related details that are coming in from the Senate Appropriations Committee:

  • Decreases funding for highways from $30 billion in the House version to $27 billion. Half of the funding will be provided to state governments, to be obligated within 180 days, with any remaining funds to be allocated by FHWA. The other half of the funding will be made available one year later, with 20% distributed to state governments and 80% to local governments.
  • Decreases transit funding from $9 billion in the House’s version, to $8.4 billion to formula grants for transit, splitting the funding into two halves.
  • Increases funding to intercity rail from $1.1 billion in the House version to $3.1 billion. This includes $2 billion of grants to be invested in the nation’s designated high-speed rail corridors.
  • Includes $5.5 billion of competitive grants, which would be applied to either highway or transit/rail projects in a way that grants the Secretary of Transportation a great deal of discretion.

The increased rail allocation moves closer to the $5 billion for intercity rail that we saw in Oberstar’s plan, but it would be ideal to have funds allocated to transit operation. For those in California, please call our senators: Boxer (202.224.3553) and Feinstein (202.224.3841) to make this recommendation; you can even use this script kindly provided courtesy of Transform. If you’re reading this post from outside California, click here for a list of senator office phone numbers.

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