Friday, February 04, 2005

TEA 21 - Reauthorization Update February 2005

As I mentioned in a post last year, this blog will provide periodic updates on the reauthorization of the US Federal Government's multi-year highway & transit funding bill, TEA-21.

It was not surprising that Bush failed to mention transportation reauthorization in his state of the union speech as it has been an extremely low priority for his administration and represents a possible confrontation with the Republican-controlled Congress.

Just last week, a group of Republican Senators wrote a letter to the President indicating their commitment to pass a reauthorization bill. Democratic Senator, Dick Durbin, also sent his own letter to the President arguing for adequate transportation financing in his budget outlining discretionary spending, due to be presented to Congress next week.

Although a bill has not been formally introduced in either chamber, it is expected that the Senate will still be asking for $318 billion over six years; the House will be asking $275 billion. The White House had indicated last year that anything over $256 billion will be vetoed.

The next few weeks will be critical as bills get introduced and funneled through committees. Rep. Dan Young, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has indicated he wants the House version of the legislation to be introduced on the floor by March 7.

The fact that it has taken nearly a year and a half to deal with reauthorization is unconscionable. One aspect to watch closely will be how transit projects fare in the reauthorization & budget process.

Discretionary funding for transit has fallen over the past budget year from $1.4 billion to $965 million. Because TEA-21 had a guaranteed limit for transit funding, the Highway Trust Fund has had to pick up the slack due to decreases in general fund appropriations.

It will not be surprising to see an assault on the guaranteed funding levels for transit during this round of the reauthorization debate to free up more money for highways.

If this scenario unfolds, it could be disastrous to sustainable metropolitan development as you will see continuing sprawl, transit cutbacks, and a quickly deteriorating highway system where maintenance costs will be neglected. You may also see increasing local and state taxes to meet citizen demand for transportation improvements.

Whatever happens, it is likely to be ugly and a step back for engendering livable communities.

In the interim, Congressional inaction is still holding up innovative urban transportation projects like the Chickamauga Greenway in Chattanooga.

(Linked with Outside the Beltway)