3 House Committees Pass 5-Year, $260 Billion Reauthorization

AASHTO Journal, 3 February 2012

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted 29-24early this morning to pass a five-year, $260 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill after a marathon markup session that lasted nearly 18 hours and included consideration of 104 amendments. The House Ways and Means Committee passed the revenue title this morning, and the House Natural Resources Committee approved expanded oil and gas drilling provisions Wednesday to help pay for transportation projects.The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, HR 7, would maintain existing funding levels and offer maximum flexibility to state transportation departments in using federal highway and transit grants.

“We are pleased that the House and Senate are moving ahead on a long-term surface transportation reauthorization,” said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “A long-term bill that sustains the surface transportation program at current funding levels is critical to the nation’s economy and creating American jobs.”

Horsley noted that both the House and Senate reauthorization bills contain numerous similarities including program consolidation, state flexibility coupled with performance management, accelerated project delivery, innovative financing, and nearly identical annual funding levels. Additional comments from Horsley are available in a Transportation TV video at bit.ly/Horsley013112. For details on Senate action this week, see related story.

Highlights of the House T&I Committee bill include:

  • Leaves FY 2012 appropriated funding levels for Highway Trust Fund programs unchanged;
  • Provides an average of $41.1 billion per year for highways and $8.4 billion for transit from the Highway Trust Fund during FY 2013-16;
  • Authorizes $2.1 billion per year for transit from the General Fund;
  • Freezes Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spending at $1.2 billion per year;
  • Eliminates the transportation enhancements set-aside requirement;
  • Increases TIFIA loan subsidies from $122 million per year to $1 billion per year;
  • Adds $750 million per year for formula grants to states that have State Infrastructure Banks;
  • Provides states with authority to toll new lanes constructed on the Interstate Highway System, but maintains the prohibition from tolling existing interstate lanes; and
  • Reduces planning and environmental timetables for highway and transit project delivery.

Text of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, as introduced, is available at bit.ly/HR7drafttext. A 14-page summary released by the committee is available at bit.ly/HTICsummary.

Amendment Removes Truck Weight Limit Increase

More than 100 amendments were filed in the House T&I Committee. During the markup session, which began at 9 a.m. Thursday and concluded at 2:46 this morning, the committee adopted several amendments including Barletta Amendment 24.

Approved 33-22, this amendment strikes many of the bill’s provisions that increase maximum truck sizes and weights on interstates and some other federal-aid highways. The bill had proposed increasing the current 80,000-pound federal weight limit to 88,000 pounds for car carriers and 97,000 pounds for six-axle trucks. The amendment requires USDOT to conduct a comprehensive three-year study of the safety and pavement performance impacts of the widespread use of bigger trucks.

Many amendments failed, including an effort by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia and ranking minority member of the committee, to require that Congress revisit the highway and transit funding levels by Fiscal Year 2014. Rahall Amendment 31 failed 32-22. Also turned down, by a vote of 29-27, was Petri Amendment 19 that would have preserved an annual set-aside for transportation enhancements.

A full list of amendments considered is available at bit.ly/HTIC1517. Video of the markup is available at bit.ly/HTIC1509.

Ways and Means’ Revenue Title Would Eliminate Mass Transit Account

The House Ways and Means Committee this morning marked up HR 3864, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Financing Act. This is the revenue title to pay for the five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill approved early today by the House T&I Committee. The committee approved HR 3864 by a vote of 20-17.

HR 3864 drew criticism by House Democrats for proposing to deposit all future collected gas and diesel taxes in the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund. Under current law, 2.86 cents per gallon of fuel taxes is deposited in a Mass Transit Account within the trust fund. Under the bill, transit would receive its money in an “Alternative Transportation Account” through a one-time $40 billion transfer from the General Fund. It is unclear at this time where that $40 billion would come from; those offsets are scheduled to be announced next week.

In addition to transit, programs including highway research, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality, ferries, and territorial highways would be funded from the new Alternative Transportation Account.

AASHTO sent a letter Thursday to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Michigan, objecting to the bill’s proposal to eliminate the Mass Transit Account. Horsley explained in the letter that AASHTO has long supported the principle that a portion of gas-tax revenues be allocated to a dedicated Mass Transit Account.

“We believe that the two complementary accounts need to be maintained in order to support a well-funded, multi-modal transportation system,” Horsley wrote. “We respectfully request that the current Highway Trust Fund structure with its two accounts and respective revenue allocations be retained.”

Three amendments were offered at this morning’s Ways and Means markup:

  1. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, and Charles Rangel, D-New York, proposed to keep the tax rates as is for the Mass Transit Account, which was voted down.
  2. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington state, proposed requiring all Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund receipts for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers harbor maintenance be appropriated, which was withdrawn after McDermott was promised assistance on working this provision into the final bill on the floor.
  3. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts, proposed adding provisions resembling Buy America Bonds. The amendment was rejected after Camp noted it would violate House budget rules.

More information on HR 3864 is available at 1.usa.gov/wmhr3864. The eight-page draft text of the revenue title is available at 1.usa.gov/HR3864drafttext. A bill description is available at 1.usa.gov/HR3864summary.

Natural Resources Committee Approves 3 Energy Provisions

The House Natural Resources Committee approved Wednesday three bills that will be rolled into HR 7: HR 3407, HR 3408, and HR 3410. These bills are designed to help pay for the surface transportation reauthorization by expanding offshore oil and gas exploration, permitting oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and increasing oil shale exploration and production.

More information on the Natural Resources Committee bills is available at bit.ly/HNRC020112.

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