Public Transit, High Speed Rail Funding May be Vulnerable to being Slashed from Budget Bill

Some congressional observers say that funding for public transit and high speed rail may be vulnerable to being cut as congressional Democrats reduce a $3.5 trillion budget bill to a lesser figure that can win approval of moderate members in the House and Senate.

The publication Rollcall reported that the House budget reconciliation bill allocated $57.3 billion to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including $10 billion for transit and $10 billion for high-speed rail.

If that funding is cut, some members of Congress will argue that rail passenger service and public transit already are getting new funding as part of a Senate-approved infrastructure bill that included $550 billion in new spending for transportation and infrastructure.

Certainly the argument that it had some funding in the bipartisan infrastructure bill will make it harder for there to be robust funding,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) when asked about transit and high-speed rail funding.

The infrastructure bill contains $39 billion in new spending for public transit and $66 billion for passenger rail.

The reconciliation bill contains an additional $10 billion each for public transit and high-speed rail. It also has $4 billion for a greenhouse gas reduction program for highways.

Democrats hold slim majorities in both chambers of Congress and have been fighting over the size of the budget bill.

They are using the reconciliation process to be able to pass a budget bill in the Senate by a simple majority to avoid a likely Republican filibuster.

Complicating matter is that some House Democrats have vowed to oppose the infrastructure bill until the House approves the larger reconciliation bill.

Advocates for public transit had pushed for the additional $10 billion in the reconciliation bill to restore what they see as a “cut” in the infrastructure bill of the originally proposed $48.5 billion for transit.

Paul Skoutelas, CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, said the $10 billion for transit in the reconciliation bill is for a new program aimed at linking transit to affordable housing through a new grant program. “It really is unique and different,” he said.

However, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pennsylvania), the committee’s ranking minority member, said the transit allocation in the reconciliation bill violated an agreement not to “double-dip” or spend money on programs that already benefited from the bipartisan infrastructure agreement.

“The transit money is overwhelmingly coming from the bipartisan bill,” Brown said. “No matter what we do on that, that’s not a major hit compared to the tens of billions we put in infrastructure.”

Even if the $10 billion for high speed rail now in the reconciliation bill survives, Jim Mathews, CEO of the Rail Passengers Association, said that isn’t enough to launch a comprehensive high-speed rail program.

“That money is desperately needed to jump-start those kinds of efforts,” he said. “But from a more 50,000-foot level, it was a policy endorsement of an approach we really have to embrace in this country.”

Mathews fears that money for high-speed rail is vulnerable to any effort to trim the size of the budget reconciliation bill.

Adie Tomer, head of the Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said the need to cut money from the reconciliation measure means “everything could be on the table.”

Tomer said in the scheme of things, the transportation items are relatively small so reducing them will make little progress toward reaching the level of cuts needed to satisfy some senators.

“There are hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending across well over 100 different authorized programs,” he said. “That’s not the place to come up with easy cuts.”

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: