Friday, February 17, 2012

An Update On The Slow-Moving Trainwrecks That Are The Federal Transportation Bills

We have urged you, our membership and readership, to contact your Congressmen the past few weeks and urge them not to gut biking and walking funding from federal transportation bills. Thank you if you made a phone call or sent a letter. Here is an update on the status of transportation legislation in Washington DC.
You can stop reading now if you want. This sums it up.

The Senate (cows on the tracks)
On the Senate side, Sen. Barbara Boxer is pessimistic about her two-year bill called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP 21) after the bill was attacked by a swarm of unrelated amendments.

The House (the train was 8 hour late, ended up in the wrong city, all the passengers got motion sickness, and then the train fell into a river)
Although we didn't succeed in putting biking and walking back into the House Bill, our opposition to the bill has found some unlikely bedfellows. Not only do biking and walking proponents oppose the House bill, so does the Tea Party, Club for Growth, and several Chicagoland Republican Congressmen.

House bill HR7 went from bad to worse when the GOP decided that cutting biking and walking funding wasn't enough. They passed a provision to kick transit out of the highway trust fund, undoing a policy created under President Ronald Reagan. This would cause Pennsylvania to lose nearly a billion dollars in federal funds and would imperil SEPTA like we've never seen before. (Incidentally, it proposes to "pay" for the bill by expanding oil-and-gas production into new areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and approving the Keystone XL pipeline.)

Transportation Secretary LaHood has called the bill a wide range of names ("worst bill in decades;" "most partisan ever;" "lousy;" "takes us back to the dark ages.") Meanwhile, right wing/Tea Party folks also hate the bill because it's too expensive. And to top it off, President Obama said he would veto the bill.

Where do our federal reps stand on HR7? The only votes taken so far have been in Committee. Congressman Meehan did not vote for the amendment to restore biking and walking funding, while Congressman LoBiondo voted for it. They both voted to move the bill out of Committee.

We met with Congressman Meehan in his district office this past Monday and asked him to oppose the bill. We hope that the prospect of devastating SEPTA will be enough to for him and the other Republican Congressmen (Mr. Fitzpatrick-PA08 and Mr. Gerlach-PA06) to oppose the bill as three Republican Chicago congressmen did late last week.

In an attempt to save the bill, Speaker Boehner split it off from energy and federal employee pensions and delayed the floor vote until after the Presidents Day recess. Meanwhile, House members are offering up over 300 amendments to the bill.

What's Next
It is hard to see all of this stuff resolved by March, when the existing transportation law expires (again). Could we see another clean extension for a year until after the 2012 election? It might be our best hope at this point.