January 18, 2010
Employment positions in this issue's classifieds include an Executive Director; an Executive Director, Operations; and a Chief Operations Officer!
2010: Public Transit Faces Legislative Challenges
Public transportation faces a variety of challenges in the year ahead. The need for Congress and the president to approve a transportation authorization bill may be the most central concern, but other issues of importance include passage of the Jobs bill; federal funding for high-speed rail projects; financing of the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF); and the possibility of federal regulatory oversight of rail transit safety.
The Fiscal Year 2010 Defense appropriations bill passed in December 2009 includes an extension through Feb. 28, 2010, of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). The extension sets funding at FY 2009 levels.
This action allows Congress to continue consideration of a long-term surface transportation authorization bill or a further extension of existing programs, such as the one-year extension added in separate legislation passed by the House of Representatives.
Before adjourning, the House approved H.R. 2847, The Jobs for Main Street Act 2010, a second economic stimulus bill that would appropriate $8.4 billion for public transportation out of a total $37.3 billion for transportation programs. This amount includes $6.15 billion for transit capital assistance formula programs—$4.84 billion allocated for urban formula grants and $605 million each for rural formula grants and high density/growing states formula grants; $500 million for the Capital Investment Grant (New Starts) program; $1.75 billion for the Fixed Guideway Modernization program; and $100 million for the Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) program. Amtrak would receive an additional $800 million for fleet modernization, including both rehabilitation of current equipment and purchase of new equipment.
The Jobs for Main Street Act also renews a provision made available through an amendment to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in July that enables grant recipients to use up to 10 percent of their formula apportionment (those funds received through the provisions of the Jobs Act) for operating costs or for eligible activities under section 5311(f).
Most importantly, the bill provides for a further extension of SAFETEA-LU, through the end of FY 2010. House transportation leaders and staff have indicated that it is their intent that this further extension will provide sufficient authority to cover the funding levels set in the FY 2010 Transportation appropriations bill. However, with only the House having acted on this provision, it is not clear how and when the Senate will deal with the bill.
The bill also includes a provision that allows for 100 percent federal funding for projects funded during FY 2010, either through new funds provided under The Jobs for Main Street Act or through regular FY 2010 FTA appropriations. Under the provision, the federal share for projects in the bill can be up to 100 percent at the option of the grant recipient, excluding New Starts projects, projects of regional and national significance, highway earmarks in FY 2010 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations, and Office of the Secretary discretionary multi-modal grants.
Finally, Section 2010 of the bill would transfer $19.5 billion from the General Fund of the Treasury to the HTF, with $14.7 billion to the Highway Account and $4.8 billion to the Mass Transit Account (MTA). The provision is provided to restore prior-year interest previously forgone to the HTF and to allow the HTF to recapture the interest on balances earned in the future. The restoration of interest to the HTF and MTA is estimated to be valued at $1.7 billion annually and will contribute positively to the fiscal health of the HTF and MTA going forward.
Senate leaders have indicated that the Jobs bill will be considered by that chamber sometime early in 2010.