December 21, 2009
Check the classifieds in this issue for information about numerous managerial and supervisory positions!
|2009: THE YEAR IN PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
2009: The Legislative Year in Review
BY MEREDITH SLESINGER, APTA Legislative Assistant
The past year has been a notable one for public transportation, both for issues facing the industry and the legislative steps taken in response.
No sector has been immune from the challenging economic conditions that have faced the country over the past year, and public transit is no exception. From both the policy and political perspectives, 2009 was not about maintaining the status quo.
The past year brought us the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a $500 billion surface transportation authorization proposal, climate change legislation, and an overhaul of transit safety regulations, to name just a few items on the legislative agenda.
ARRA Deploys Billions for Transit and High-Speed Rail
President Barack Obama was sworn into office in January, and his administration has taken a dramatically different approach to policy issues affecting public transit than did its predecessor.
The first legislative priority for the incoming administration was to craft a stimulus plan to combat the impacts of the recession. On Feb. 17, the president signed into law H.R. 1, or ARRA, to provide $789 billion in spending and tax relief.
The package included $8.4 billion for new mostly capital investment in public transit for programs administered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), with $6.9 billion distributed through existing formula programs. The Urban Formula program (§5307) received $5.44 billion and the Rural Formula program (§5311) and the Growing States and High Density formula program (§5340) received $680 million each.
ARRA also allocated $9.3 billion for the development of intercity and high-speed passenger rail. This figure includes $8 billion for high-speed rail and $1.3 billion to Amtrak for capital investment and upgrades.
In addition, ARRA made available two $750 million grants under the Fixed Guideway Modernization program and the New Starts/Small Starts program respectively. A new discretionary grant program, Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER), appropriated $100 million for transit agencies to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
The transit portion of the bill also included appropriation of $1.5 billion for a new multi-modal discretionary grant program, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER), for capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure. The TIGER program ultimately received $57 billion worth of applications.
Other ARRA provisions of importance to APTA members include $150 million in funds for transit and rail security and a change to the commuter tax benefit that finally put transit and parking benefits on equal footing.
Today, 10 months after ARRA’s enactment, FTA has obligated 87.6 percent of the available funds: $7.2 billion for 690 grants. Approximately $459 million for 55 grants are pending review and approval, leaving only approximately 7 percent of funds remaining for obligation.
FY 2009 Transportation Appropriations
In addition to the ARRA funding, the transit title of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act that passed in March allocated $10.231 billion in new budget authority for transit programs—a $740 million (7.8 percent) increase over FY 2008. This amount is $106 million less than authorized by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).
The bill provided $8.26 billion for formula and bus programs, but cut $100 million from the authorized level in SAFETEA-LU from the discretionary Bus and Bus Facilities program. However, this still provided an increase of $60.9 million over the FY 2008 level for Bus and Bus Facilities.
The New Starts/Small Starts Capital Investment Fund received $1.81 billion, equal to the authorized level in SAFETEA-LU and $240 million more than last year’s appropriation.
House T&I Committee Releases Authorization Proposal
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-MN); Ranking Member John Mica (R-FL); and Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the T&I Highways and Transit Subcommittee, in June introduced a $500 billion authorization proposal, the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 (STAA), which calls for $99.8 billion for public transit programs administered by FTA—an increase of more than 90 percent over SAFETEA-LU levels. STAA also calls for $50 billion in general funds for the development of high-speed rail.
However, the House Ways and Means Committee did not take up the revenue portion of the bill, leaving the financing of the legislation as an ongoing debate.
The Obama administration proposed an 18-month extension to SAFETEA-LU, which was approved by two Senate committees, Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and Environment and Public Works (EPW), but Oberstar adamantly opposed any extension. He continues to maintain that a long-term bill cannot wait: a new six-year bill is necessary to build on the transportation investments in ARRA, create jobs, and institute reforms that bring about transformational change to transportation policy and programs.
At the end of July, the House and Senate passed H.R. 3357 to transfer $7 billion in general funds into the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). This infusion of funds into the account was necessary to maintain solvency of the HTF through Sept. 30 and the expiration of SAFETEA-LU. Without this transfer, the federal government would have been unable to reimburse states for highway projects funded through the FY 2009 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill.
A major concern surrounding extension legislation has been the possibility that the HTF will require another general fund transfer.
Climate Change Legislation
In late June, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, also known as the Waxman-Markey climate change bill after its authors, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Chairman Edward Markey (D-MA).
The bill establishes a cap-and-trade plan for greenhouse gases to combat climate change. Under the plan, the government would set limits on the total amount of greenhouse gases that could be emitted and regulated companies would then buy and sell (trade) permits to emit these gases. Over time, the cap on emissions would be lowered and entities that produce more greenhouse gases would see costs rise, and thus have an economic incentive to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, the Waxman-Markey bill allowed transit to compete for a very small amount of cap-and-trade revenues, but it did not guarantee transit investment.
However, in the Senate version of the legislation reported out of EPW—the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733), also known as the Kerry-Boxer bill after its authors, EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA)—transit would receive about 2.5 percent of emissions allowances, translating into between $1.4 billion and $3 billion annually for transportation investment. Half of the revenue would be distributed directly to public transportation providers through the §5307/5340 and §5311 formula programs. The other half would be allocated to planning activities and a competitive multi-modal program for projects, including transit investments, in the new regional and state emission reduction plans.
APTA continues to monitor and advocate for guaranteed transit funding in Kerry-Boxer and alternative legislative proposals.
All-Time High Funding in FY 2010 THUD Appropriations
The FY 2010 THUD bill, approved by the Senate Dec. 13 and awaiting the president’s signature at press time, is the vehicle for an omnibus appropriations package that will keep federal agencies operating through Sept. 30, 2010. The bill contains $10.7 billion for public transit, setting a new record high.
The formula and bus programs account receives $8.3 billion, but the bill does not provide specific program funding allocations. The conference report on the legislation notes that these decisions will be made by the authorizing committees in future legislation.
The legislation contains $2 billion for FTA Capital Investment Grants (New Starts), 9.4 percent above the original budget request, and $2.5 billion for high-speed rail and intercity rail corridors, a compromise between the $4 billion proposed by the House and $1.2 billion by the Senate. Amtrak receives $1 billion for capital and debt service payment grants.
Another provision of note in the bill is $600 million for capital investments in surface transportation, modeled after the TIGER program established through ARRA. Finally, as authorized under the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the legislation provides $50 million for projects such as positive train control. Applicants must demonstrate that they are currently developing the required plans required by the act in order to qualify for a grant under this program.
Surface transportation programs were authorized through Dec. 18 under a second continuing resolution (CR) after the Sept. 30 expiration of SAFETEA-LU. As Passenger Transport went to press, it was proposed that a “Jobs Bill” attached to the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations bill (the final unfinished FY 2010 bill) could extend SAFETEA-LU and provide additional transportation infrastructure investment. If the House and Senate are unable to pass such legislation, it is likely that a third short-term extension of the SAFETEA-LU law would be enacted through February 2010, with further debate on a second stimulus and longer-term extension to be continued when Congress returns from recess in January.
DHS Appropriations Enacted
On Oct. 28, President Obama signed into law H.R. 2892, the FY 2010 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill. This legislation provides funding for the department and agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which are critical for carrying out programs to advance public transportation and rail security plans, projects, and research.
The bill provides $300 million for Rail and Public Transportation Security grants, $50 million more than the budget request and the House level, and $56 million less than the Senate level. A minimum threshold of $20 million is set aside for Amtrak security improvements. The bill also continues a legislative provision requiring the department to provide grants directly to public transportation agencies.
The conference report also makes note of the fact that 90 percent of funds appropriated in FY 2006 for rail and transit security remain unexpended.
Proposed Federal Rail Transit Safety Oversight
In early December, the Obama administration proposed a bill, The Public Transportation Safety Program Act of 2009, that would authorize the secretary of transportation to establish and enforce federal safety standards for all rail systems receiving federal dollars for transit. This eliminates a prohibition on imposing safety standards that has been in effect since 1965.
The bill would allow states to be eligible for federal transit assistance to hire and train staff to provide oversight to enforce the new federal regulations. State programs would be required to be fully staffed and given adequate resources and authority to enforce federal safety regulations to be eligible for federal funds.
Finally, the legislation would require the state agencies responsible for safety oversight to be financially independent from the transit systems they oversee. FTA would provide enforcement of all federal regulations in instances where states choose not to participate in the program where the state program is found to be inadequate in terms of enforcement.
Throughout the year, APTA was also actively engaged in issues surrounding Sale-In/Lease-Out and Lease-In/Lease-Out transactions, alternative fuel tax credits, livable and sustainable communities, and implementation of Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act provisions.
The outlook for the year ahead is a continuation of the packed legislative agenda we have seen in 2009, with transportation authorization, climate change, job creation, and safety among the leading issues as we move into 2010.