Game On: H.R. 14 introduced as well as a 3-month extension

This morning, House leadership announced that they will consider a three-month extension, rather than a full authorization bill, before the March 31 expiration of the federal transportation program.  While the Senate successfully – and overwhelmingly – passed a bipartisan authorization bill last week, House leaders appear unwilling to consider a similar bipartisan approach and instead wish to kick the can down the road.

Enter H.R. 14, introduced this morning by Rep. Tim Bishop of New York, along with other ranking Democrats on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.  H.R. 14 is the Senate’s successful MAP-21 legislation packaged in a House bill, and already has over 80 co-sponsors. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has marked H.R. 14 a top priority and other California supporters include Reps. Filner, Richardson, Napolitano, Hahn, Thompson, Speier, McNerney, Honda, Stark, Lofgren, Roybal-Allard, Sherman, Garamendi, Costa, and Linda Sanchez.

“MAP-21 received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate due to its huge potential for job creation,” said Rep. Bishop in a press release announcing the legislation.  “I have introduced the bill in the House to allow a bipartisan majority in this chamber to pass it as well and move our nation forward.”

We’re still evaluating what the next steps are on the introduction of this bill, sorting out the details, and formulating how T4A California will engage in this process, but we’re encouraged that the coalition’s hard work is continuing to push the debate forward. We’ll have more information soon and will follow up with all of you once we have a better idea of what opportunities this provides to get us closer to passage of a transportation bill that moves California forward. Stay tuned!

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Senate Approves MAP-21, 74-22

No, we’re serious!

Vote Count, Senate Transportation Bill

Vote Count - photo courtesy of Denny Zane, Move LA

The Senate today voted 74-22 to pass the transportation bill S. 1813, as amended over the past week.  (Need a refresher on key amendments?  The final amendment tracker is right here, with amendments sorted into “transportation related” and other.)

See the official T4 America website for our statement of gratitude and support.

The passage of MAP-21, aka S. 1813, is a notable victory not only for transportation, but also for Senator Barbara Boxer.  Senator Boxer worked tirelessly to craft a bipartisan bill that would satisfy her colleagues on both sides of the aisle as well as her constituency at home. Continue reading

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Will the House Unearth a Flawed Transportation Bill or Join the Senate?

The House is on recess this week but Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and other majority leaders are reportedly pressing hard on their Republican colleagues to support the reintroduction of their failed HR-7 transportation bill. 

What that bill would look like is very unclear. When HR-7 was introduced the biggest outcry, and the most publicized, was the gutting of dedicate federal transit funding. But there were many more issues with the bill that caused it to collapse under its own weight as it was attacked by the most conservative deficit-cutting republicans to every single democrat:

  • Fails to hold states accountable for repairing and maintaining existing roads and bridges. It offloads responsibility for many federal aid bridges onto local taxpayers, while giving state transportation departments broad leeway to build new highways that taxpayers can’t afford to maintain.
  • Eliminates the small, cost-effective and extremely important programs that help improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, improve public health, and rejuvenate local business districts and neighborhoods.
  • Allows governors to veto local planning decisions (governors could amend MPO transportation improvement programs at will).
  • Guts the environmental review process that is key for identifying impacts from proposed transportation projects and ensures that their is local input into the planning process.
  • Creates more bureaucracy at transit agencies. Under the bill’s provisions, bus-only transit agencies could receive grants from the Bus and Bus Facilities program, but agencies with both bus and rail could not. As a result large agencies that have both rail and bus systems would have to split into two different entities. The bill also doesn’t provide transit operators with the flexibility to use some federal funds for operations, which the Senate bill does. This flexibility would allow agencies to avoid the service cuts and fare hikes that restrict transit riders access to reliable and affordable transportation options.
  • Depends on revenues from drilling that may not be consistent and may not materialize.

So what is the solution? Well, Speaker Boehner also stated last week that if the House is unable to push forward an amended bill then he would consider bringing the Senate bill forward for a vote.

This is is an approach our California Congressional delegation should get behind. The Senate’s MAP-21 bill, crafted under the leadership of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), is a bipartisan bill that is poised to pass through the Senate as soon as tomorrow, March 13th. The bill preserves funding for transit, prioritizes repair and maintenance of our roads and bridges, sets national goals and objectives for our transportation system, and gives our cities the local control over federal funding they need to invest in infrastructure critical for making our streets safer and our communities healthier. Your Representatives need to hear from you about your support for the House to take up and approve the Senate’s MAP-21 federal transportation reauthorization bill.

(The Senate began hearing amendments on Friday and rejected several including efforts to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.)

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Today’s Special: Cloture Vote

Update, 11:00 a.m. Pacific – The cloture vote failed, 52-44.  We’ll provide a more detailed analysis in another post later today.

Today, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to take up MAP-21 for a cloture vote.  This is the procedural hurdle, requiring 60 votes, to advance a bill forward to debate.

Transportation For America yesterday issued a statement of support for MAP-21, and urged Senators to support cloture in today’s vote.

Although cloture does not assure final passage, the difficulty of winning this vote is why many refer to needing a “supermajority” in the Senate.  Anyone who’s worked on legislation should be familiar with the challenges of winning over enough members of both parties to win more than 50% support.

Streetsblog DC rounded up opinions on whether it’s likely to pass or not, and the verdict is, maybe.  You can read up on their sleuthing here.

Should MAP-21 advance, the Senate will likely spend at least two weeks debating amendments before a final vote. That’s when our handy amendment tracker will become useful.

If cloture fails, the bill is stuck and the chances become close to nil that a full transportation bill would be completed before March 31.  (Chances are already slim due to the meltdown of the House bill, though we’re not entirely counting them out quite yet.)

It’s kind of like Groundhog Day.  Will we get a few more weeks of debate, or will it be over immediately?  Either way, we’ll let you know when we find out what happens.

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Senator Boxer accepts important Cardin-Cochran amendment to transportation bill

Breaking news: The Senate transportation bill now includes the Cardin-Cochran amendment for local control of bicycle and pedestrian funding in the manager’s package.

The latest version of MAP-21, filed late yesterday, pulls together the separate committee drafts into one bill and incorporates Cardin-Cochran as one of the managers’ amendments.  The Senate will hold a cloture vote on Tuesday and then move ahead with debate, presuming the vote passes.

The adoption of Cardin-Cochran puts bicycle and pedestrian funding in the hands of local communities through both sub-allocation to the regions, as well as a competitive grant program for small communities that are not part of a metropolitan planning organization.

This means that Caltrans must distribute the bicycle and pedestrian funding, rather than sitting on the funding until the 18 month window is up and then transferring it to another use.  And as California has repeatedly returned a high percentage of dedicated bicycle and pedestrian funding in the annual rescission process under current law, this policy would ensure that these funds are spent at the local level on projects that increase safety and mobility for our cities, counties, and regions.

There’s more good news in the updated draft of MAP-21, and we’ll have more on those soon.  However, the Cardin-Cochran amendment is an incredible victory for California’s communities – please thank Senator Boxer today!

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House T-Bill Resurrection Fails…Senate Bill Clears Obstacles for Further Debate

House leadership floated the idea of a shorter 18-month long transportation bill today but it apparently fell flat and hard.

Speaker John Boehner and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica reportedly sought to put the scaled back version in front of the House with dedicated funding for transit restored and the rest of the bill largely unchanged. This move is meant to appease suburban Republicans whose votes were needed to pass H.R. 7 but opposed such a move given that transit is critical for many of their constituents.

But even restoring dedicated transit funding would fix only one of the myriad of deep flaws in an auto-centric bill that would have told Californians to take a load off their feet, get off the bike, out of the bus, exit the train, and get back in their cars. The legislation also would have gutted funding critical for cleaning our air, investing in safe streets for biking and walking, cut funding for Amtrak, and severely stunted environmental review of projects. If House leadership does make a serious effort to come back with a transportation bill it should address some of these problems beginning with these proposed amendments.

Meanwhile the Senate cleared two major hurdles today with the defeat of the contraception amendment by a floor vote of 51-48 and avoiding a vote on aid to Egypt – Egypt will let American workers go so there was no need to proceed. While neither of these had anything to do with transportation they were offered as amendments to the Senate’s federal transportation reauthorization proposal – MAP-21.

That means that the Senate can now begin debating amendments that will have an effect on the funding levels and policies that would affect the future transportation system of the U.S. and California. There are numerous amendments on the table to ensure continued dedicated funding for safe streets, bridges and roads are repaired, air quality is improved, and transportation investments translate into good jobs. You can find a more comprehensive breakdown of each of the priority amendments T4 America is supporting at the amendment tracker. The Senate could move forward to hear each of these amendments as soon as Friday.

So here’s to the Senate moving along with these amendments and  the House coming back with a bipartisan bill that provides a way forward. Either way the clock is ticking towards March 31st when the latest SAFETEA-LU extension is up leaving two options:

  • Get the Senate and House bills to conference and pass a new federal transportation bill
  • Pass another extension of SAFETEA-LU

Simply put, a lot is at stake in March.

But for right now, identify those amendments that are most important to you and please let Senators Boxer and Feinstein know it through calls or letters.

Adelante!

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House leaders ditch H.R. 7 for JOBS – Senate must hurdle contraception vote before MAP-21 debate

Transportation?  That’s so last week.

The latest rumors are that the House leadership is going to propose an entirely new bill focused on jobs – that may contain some shorter-term transportation spending – and vote on it next week.

The continuing H.R. 7 meltdown seems to be part of a larger rift among leaders in Washington. Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, a moderate Republican, announced yesterday that she won’t be running for re-election, primarily because of the increasing partisanship that has gridlocked Congress over the past few years.

The shake-up in the House may be an opportunity, though, and whether it’s a new bill or a re-vamped H.R. 7 , T4 America has some suggestions for how it should be different from the last version.

Others have expressed similar openness to taking a different tack. DC Streetsblog reports:

This might not be such a bad thing, surmises Steve Heminger, executive director of the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “Maybe what we have here,” Heminger said at a media conference call convened by T4America, “is an emerging consensus to buy a little time, get past the presidential election, then use that time wisely and think big again.” A two-year bill, then, would really serve as an extension of the current law while “planting the seeds,” in Heminger’s words, for a longer-term bill that would “invest in the network the way we need to.”

In the Senate, a vote on Senator Roy Blunt’s contraception amendment is on the agenda for tomorrow, as Senate leaders finalize the full list of MAP-21 amendments.  It’s likely that debate on the transportation-related amendments to the transportation bill will begin next week.

Then again, other off-topic amendments may continue to keep the heart of the bill on the sidelines.  We’ll let you know when we hear more on timing.

Regardless of what happens in the Senate, the House kerfuffle makes it a tall order to complete a transportation bill by the next extension expiration date of March 31.  Seems we’re again approaching a deadline where the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty.

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