Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

City Leaders Urge Fast Action on Transit Funding

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

City Leaders Urge Fast Action on Transit Funding

Article excerpt

Key legislation leading NLC's Action Agenda -- ISTEA -- is on the Senate floor, where it will likely be through the middle of March. Today, local officials gathered in Washington for NLC's Congressal Cities Conference are preparing to meet with House Transportation Infrastructure Committee Chairman, Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.), to press for swift action in the House.

In conjunction with the NLC legislative meeting, a special legislative briefing on a provision in the Senate transit bill is being held today to explain to local officials the minimum allocation amendments, which are of critical concern to local officials because they threaten the future of public transportation by undercutting funding where it is most needed.

Last week on the Senate side, the leadership reached a budget agreement on reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, known as ISTEA II or S. 1173. The budget agreement came in two parts. First, at the beginning of the week, the Senate agreed on greater funding for highways and ignored transit funding, which traditionally received a twenty percent of any highway funding increase. After pressure from local governments, transit interests, and environmental groups, transit also received an increase in funding.

The highway funding agreement is approximately $26 billion over the life of the bill. With two-thirds of the funding split among all of the ISTEA programs. The remaining third will be spent on four demonstration projects: the Appalachian Roads Commission including Corridor H, NAFTA trade corridors, a donor state bonus and urban density areas -- although details on this part are not clear. The transit increase is $5 billion over six years.

For transit, even though the agreement provides for more new spending, it does not ensure that they money is available. NLC President Brian O'Neill stated, "I applaud the Senate leadership for coming through for more transit funding. However, it is only the first step. We need to ensure that anti-transit amendments such as the minimum allocation amendment are defeated." Senators Senators Allard (R-Colo.), Johnson (D-S.D.), Levin (D-Mich.), and Thomas (R-Wyo.) are introducing a Minimum Allocation amendment, which will destroy the transit program.

Minimum allocation is a way to distribute federal transit funding from its current distribution method, which is based on need to existing transit systems and to new systems and to new systems. Under a minimum allocation scenario, states -- not local governments -- receive a minimum amount of gas tax revenue that their state contributes to the transit trust fund. This does not provide enough funds to states with existing transit systems and spreads the funding too thinly to start a new system. …

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