A Move in the Right Direction - TEA-21
Goehring, Jan, Levy, Dawn, State Legislatures
Everybody gets a little something from the new 400-page transportation act. The best part is that states decide what needs to be done.
States are winners," says Colorado Senator Richard Mutzebaugh about the new federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, or TEA-21. The largest public works bill in history, it benefits highways, transit, technology, environmental programs anti jobs. And it gives states what they have wanted all along - transportation money for transportation projects. Mutzebaugh sees the act as a "positive step for states" and says he hopes the momentum "continues in this direction."
Congress in May passed TEA-21, which reauthorized the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) that had expired last year. Under it, states have more funding, more flexibility and many incentives to improve transportation safety.
"There's something for everyone. It's an historic move forward to rebuild, renovate and protect the nation's transportation infrastructure," says Maryland Delegate Carol Stoker Petzold. It also gives states the economic wherewithal they need to pull off creative transportation solutions. The act authorizes over $217 billion over the six-year period of 1998 to 2003: $175 billion for highways, $41.4 for transit, $2.2 for highway safety and $650 million for motor carrier safety grants.
Some charge that TEA-21 is a return to "pork barrel" spending, and it does contain more than 1,800 specific "high priority" projects. For example, a small town in Alaska will get a bridge, California will fix up an historic train depot, Pennsylvania will improve a business park and New York will work on a county road. But California Senator Betty Karnette says, "It's not pork, and it's misleading to call it that. Transportation is important to all of us and to the economy."
Pork or priority aside, TEA-21 is good news for states. Here's a brief rundown of what's in the 400-plus pages of the act. The key themes include funding mechanisms, highways and transit, traffic safety, environment and jobs.
DIVIDING UP THE MONEY
"Take the highway trust fund off-budget" was the battle cry for states and highway users who wanted to keep highway money from going to the general fund to offset the federal deficit. Congress finally reached a compromise to solve this pervasive debate. The majority of the funding in the $218 billion act is guaranteed for transportation. Some $198 billion must be spent only for highway, transit and safety programs. It cannot be diverted elsewhere during the appropriations process. This practically ensures that tax revenues deposited into the trust fund will be spent annually on transportation improvements.
"States have something they can count on with the guarantees in funding," Petzold says. "It allows them to move ahead with long-range planning to repair and improve failing transportation infrastructure."
The only thing the guarantee doesn't do is ensure that highway trust fund money will actually be spent. Congress could choose not to appropriate the full amount and just let the money carry over to the next year. There is little incentive to do that, however, since the money cannot be spent on anything but transportation.
TEA-21 solves another old controversy by ensuring greater equity for the "donor" states. Under the old ISTEA, donor states contributed fair more to the federal highway trust fund than they got back. Some states, such as Florida and Texas, got back only 77 cents per dollar, as compared to a state like Massachusetts that received $2.49 for each dollar spent. All states are now guaranteed a minimum 90.5 percent return on money deposited in the trust fund. "The act distributes the money more proportionately, and most states, especially Western states, will receive more money," says Mutzebaugh.
MAKING TRAVEL EASIER
"California has a desperate need for transportation …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: A Move in the Right Direction - TEA-21. Contributors: Goehring, Jan - Author, Levy, Dawn - Author. Magazine title: State Legislatures. Volume: 24. Issue: 8 Publication date: September 1998. Page number: 30+. © 2009 National Conference of State Legislatures. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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