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March 16, 2009

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LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE COVERAGE

Hill Staffers: A Lot to Do on Transit Issues, Ready to Do It
By SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

The 111th Congress is facing a lot of transportation-related issues in the coming months—implementation of ARRA, completion of the Fiscal Year 2009 omnibus appropriations bill, development of the FY 2010 budget, and creation and passage of the transportation authorization bill—and key Congressional committees are ready to jump in. That was the message shared by House and Senate staffers at the March 9 “View from the Hill” session during the APTA Legislative Conference.

For example: “We’re enthusiastic about doing the authorization bill this year,” said Mitch Warren, majority professional staff member for the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. He also described the importance of public transit to a nation looking at a projected 50 percent increase in population by 2050, largely consisting of the elderly, immigrants, and single-person households.

Warren also called for more parity between transit and highway policies and streamlining the design and construction process. He noted that his committee will hear testimony from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood at a March 12 hearing.

Shannon Hines, minority professional staff member for the same committee, noted that the Senate is running behind the House in preparing for the authorization bill. “The big hill we have to climb is, how do we finance this bill long-term and maintain the piece of the pie?” she said.

Hines cited past underfunding of U.S. infrastructure and said Congress often “pour[s] money into new investments and building new things but not [into] funding long-term maintenance requirements. We must ensure that, whatever we’re funding, we continue to pay for over the long haul.”

“The next authorization bill will have some deep and challenging financing issues,” said Peter Rogoff, majority clerk to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. He also described the process of either getting the FY 2009 omnibus appropriations bill through the Senate or passing another continuing resolution (CR) before the current CR expires, and said the Transportation Trust Fund may face another shortfall before the end of the fiscal year.

Joyce Rose, minority staff director for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, said the next authorization bill must be “transformative” and could set transportation funding levels at $500 billion over six years. “I hope it will be generous; the need is there in the highway, transit, and highway safety community,” she added.

She noted the importance of fiscal predictability to a state DOT or agency, noting that flexibility brings “great promise but [also] risk because you don’t know how much [money] your program is going to receive.”

Amy Scarton, majority counsel for the T&I Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, said the chair of the full committee, Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), hopes to mark up the authorization bill by Memorial Day, then get it to the House floor in June or July. “We need time to let the other body and the Administration put their stamp on it,” she said.

She also said the subcommittee is looking for positive environmental outcomes, asking, “Why are not all programs intermodal, or green in some way?”

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