The House Ways and Means Committee that handles the financing portion of the Federal Transportation Reauthorization, voted Friday to end the use of gas tax revenues to fund transit (H.R. 3864), a policy implemented over thirty years ago by President Reagan. The vote means the Chicago region could lose up to $1.2 billion over the next five years.
Currently, 2.86 cents per gallon of federal motor fuel taxes goes into the Mass Transit Account. The vote eliminated this account and required that all revenues be transferred to the Highway Account retroactive to October 1, 2012. The Mass Transit Account would be replaced by the Alternative Transportation Account, and funded from the General Fund at $40 billion. That $40 billion would be subject to appropriation and have to compete with other General Fund programs, meaning no long-term stability for public transit limiting the ability to plan for the future.
Illinois House Ways and Means Committee members Representatives Peter Roskam and Aaron Schock, both from the Chicago region, voted in favor of the legislation.
Transit is a critical component to the Chicago region’s economic livelihood. Our transit system eliminates almost two million drivers a day from already grid-locked roads, makes the air cleaner, saves commuters money, and reduces reliance on foreign oil.
The Metropolitan Planning Council sent a Letter to U.S. Rep Dave Camp and Sander Levin, ranking Ways and Means Committee members to reject H.R.3864. The bill drew opposition from a broad coalition of over 600 groups, including the American Public Transportation Association, T4America, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Bike and pedestrian programs eliminated
During an 18-hour markup session on the transit and infrastructure portion of the bill in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, 100 amendments were debated and voted on. Representative Tom Petri (R-Wis.) introduced an amendment that would restore the Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements programs, two of the most important sources of funding for bike and pedestrian projects. Dedicated funding for both would be eliminated under the House bill. Rep. Petri noted these programs account for about two percent of highway funds, giving a lot of bang for the buck and that they’re supported by Realtors because they add value to our neighborhoods. He also said the programs ensure safety for school children and promote healthy living.
During debate on the amendment the Chicago region’s Representative Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) reminded the committee that the more people we have walking and biking, the less wear and tear and less congestion on our roads. He said, “This is not just throwing something out for recreation. This is truly transportation. We have to recognize that we’re never going to build enough roads to accommodate everyone. We need to encourage people to be taking other forms of transportation.”
In the end the amendment failed by a vote of 29-27.
The committee did vote to strike language that would have increases weight and length limits on trucks to 97,000 pounds and 120 feet long.
The bill now moves to the full House for a vote.
Any House-passed plan must be reconciled with the Senate’s Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) proposal, which would reauthorize U.S. transportation programs for two years at a cost of $109 billion. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) unanimously approved the highway portion of the legislation with bi-partisan support. Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee approved the transit portion of the bill also on a unanimous bipartisan vote. The transit portion of the Senate bill allows federal funds to be spent on transit operations; Currently, federal transit funds are restricted to system expansion and maintenance. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the full Senate could vote on the bill on February 13th.