Protests kill Congressional attempt to defund transit
An outcry from urbanists, transit advocates, environmentalists, and others led House Speaker John Boehner last week to retreat from a controversial transportation bill.
Legislation proposed by the Speaker and by Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would have ended the nearly three-decade-long practice of allocating 20 percent of Highway Trust Fund dollars to public transit capital projects. After opposition emerged across the political spectrum, however, Boehner announced that the House would no longer be planning to cut off the guaranteed source of transit funding.
"Since 1983, under President Ronald Reagan, fuels tax revenues have been dedicated to public transit through the Mass Transit Account of the surface transportation legislation," Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), said in a written statement. "We are pleased that the Congress will continue the overwhelming bipartisan support for dedicated federal investment in public transit that has existed for nearly 30 years."
Opposition to the transit funding cutoff came not only from the Transportation for America coalition (including the Congress for New Urbanism) but also from some conservative groups and Republicans.
Rob Perks, in a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) blog, noted that opposition to the transportation bill came from groups "ranging from NRDC to the Club for Growth." In the face of determined protests, including "friendly fire" from fellow Republican lawmakers, Boehner said the legislation would not be put up for a floor vote this week.
In a report on the turnaround, The New York Times quoted Representative Judy Biggert, a Republican from the Chicago suburbs, as saying, "Suburban commuters and motorists, who pay millions in federal fuel taxes, deserve a transportation bill that is responsive to their needs."
The committee's chairman, Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, "has appeared at times befuddled, annoyed and saddened by the criticisms of his bill, which would replace the current temporary extension, the eighth since a $286 billion, multi-year plan ended in 2009," The Times said.
Abandonment of the transit funding cutoff was a victory for advocates of transit and urbanism. Nonetheless, environmentalists remain worried about a proposal that would pay for infrastructure by authorizing new oil and gas drilling on "just about every inch of our lands" and offshore as well, Perks said in his blog. He noted: "NRDC has repeatedly denounced the GOP "drill and drive" scheme, as have a number of fiscal conservative groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Reason Foundation and Taxpayers for Common Sense."
The House may also "end the “Safe Routes to School” program and other dedicated funding to make streets safer for walking and bicycling," Perks pointed out.
What sort of transportation legislation will be able to pass both houses of Congress is unclear, after so much division.
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