AASHTO Journal, 16 March 2012
After five weeks of floor debate, the Senate voted 74-22 Wednesday to pass S 1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, which would reauthorize federal surface transportation programs through Sept. 30, 2013, and raise $15 billion in revenue to pay for maintaining current funding levels plus inflation.
Wednesday’s vote came after senators adopted seven transportation-related amendments earlier in the week. MAP-21 is the first multi-year highway and transit reauthorization bill to pass either chamber since the 2005 transportation law known as “SAFETEA-LU” expired Sept. 30, 2009. Congress has enacted eight short-term extensions to continue surface transportation programs and the authority to collect revenue; the latest extension expires March 31.
“Members of the U.S. Senate are to be commended for their strong bipartisan passage of S 1813 — a multi-year, $109 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill that sustains highway and transit funding at current levels,” said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “This important accomplishment could not have been achieved without the leadership of Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-California, and James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairman and ranking minority member, respectively; and Sens. Max Baucus, D-Montana, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Senate Finance Committee chairman and ranking minority member, respectively.”
In addition to maintaining current funding levels, Horsley praised MAP-21 for including key reforms favored by state transportation departments including streamlining project delivery, consolidating programs, and improving performance reporting and accountability.
Horsley urged quick action by the House of Representatives, which returns to Washington on Monday with eight legislative days remaining until federal highway and transit programs are scheduled to expire. (see related story)
“The clock is ticking down on the eighth short-term extension of previous authorization legislation, which must be continued past its March 31 deadline,” he said. “Another short-term extension will give Congress time to reach agreement on a final bill that everyone agrees is important to America.” (view Transportation TV interview with Horsley)
The White House issued a statement praising the Senate’s action.
“We are pleased that senators have continued the tradition of working across the aisle to pass a bill that keeps Americans at work maintaining our nation’s vital infrastructure and provides states and localities the certainty they need to plan ahead,” the Obama administration said in the statement. “We are hopeful that the House will move swiftly and in similarly bipartisan fashion to do the same.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood conveyed those sentiments during an appearance Thursday before the Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee. (see related story)
Senate Adopts 7 Amendments Before Final Passage
After adopting a series of amendments last week (see March 9 AASHTO Journal story), senators worked through a final stack of 24 amendments Tuesday and Wednesday, eight of which were not germane to transportation. Seven germane amendments were approved, including a manager’s package (Boxer Amendment 1830) containing numerous tweaks such as altering certain provisions under the finance section of the bill and adding a research and education title. Another nine germane amendments failed or were withdrawn.
In addition to the manager’s package, the Senate approved these transportation-related amendments:
- Bingaman Amendment 1759 (passed 50-47) reducing state highway apportionments proportionately if the state has privatized any of its highways;
- Brown Amendment 1819 (passed by voice vote) related to Buy America requirements for highway, transit, and Amtrak projects;
- Blunt Amendment 1540 (passed by voice vote) increasing the off-system bridge set-aside;
- Merkley Amendment 1814 (passed by voice vote) related to farm vehicle exemptions;
- Boxer Amendment 1816 (passed 76-20) to express the nonbinding “sense of the Senate” that environmental reviews of infrastructure reconstruction projects after disasters should be conducted quickly; and
- Klobuchar Amendment 1617 (passed by voice vote) exempting the transportation of certain agricultural commodities from federal safety and hours of service requirements.
Transportation-related amendments that were not adopted:
- DeMint Amendment 1756 (failed 67-30) reducing federal fuel taxes by 14.6 cents per gallon and greatly reducing the federal role in surface transportation;
- Coats Amendment 1517 (failed 70-28) requiring that each state receive back from the federal government 100% of its federal gasoline-tax payments;
- Portman Amendment 1736 (failed 68-30) giving states the option to have all of their federal gas-tax payments returned as a block grant;
- Corker Amendment 1785 (failed 58-40 on a point of order) to lower the discretionary spending cap to compensate for General Fund transfers to the Highway Trust Fund;
- Portman Amendment 1742 (failed 86-12) permitting states to allow commercial activities at highway rest areas;
- Paul Amendment 1556 (failed 54-42 on a point of order) permitting emergency exemptions from compliance with certain government regulation for highway and bridge construction;
- Corker Amendment 1810 (failed by voice vote) limiting Highway Trust Fund spending to prior year tax receipts;
- Carper Amendment 1670 and Hutchison Amendment 1568, both related to tolls, were mutually withdrawn; and
- Shaheen Amendment 1678 related to small bus systems was withdrawn.