Report on National Transportation Conference. Transit-An Endangered Species?
Posted by Transit Action Network on April 12, 2011
The Conference, called ONE NATION INDIVISIBLE, had 135 representatives from TEN organizations representing 18 states.
Visiting the Hill to speak with the Washington staffers from our local delegation offered a wonderful opportunity. There is so much potential for new infrastructure, new jobs and making our country a better, more exciting place to live. However, at the end of the day, it looks like we will struggle to maintain what we currently have.
The federal gas tax of 18.4¢ per gallon, which pays for roads and transit through the Highway Trust Fund, hasn’t covered the federal transportation costs for quite a while. The last Transportation Bill expired in 2009. Congress has continued to fund the old bill by subsidizing the gas tax from federal general revenue until a new bill is passed. That is about to change.
Congress is refusing to increase the gas tax to pay for transportation, yet no alternative funding mechanism is getting any traction. We aren’t paying enough to take care of the roads we already have, let alone build new ones. Transit only gets 20% of the money allocated to the transportation budget so the outlook isn’t bright.
There were workshops and transportation speeches from the Deputy Secretary of Transportation, John Porcari, and the Federal Transit Administrator, Peter Rogoff. Then I visited with staffers from the Appropriations Committee and Representatives Yoder R-KS, Graves R- MO, and Cleaver D-MO. I really enjoyed the conference but I left feeling depressed.
Severe cuts to all transportation are being proposed in the House budget for the remainder of FY2011. While I was there the shutdown of the government was looming. People at home aren’t expressing outrage about these cuts so the cutters are empowered and we were told we haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until we see the trillion dollar budget cuts being planned for 2012.
Although Congress reached an agreement Friday night, details are still being worked out by staffers. We were told high-speed rail is gone in this budget.
If we can’t keep these programs alive, what is going to happen when Congress gets around to reauthorizing the Transportation Bill?
My overriding concern at the end of the day was how much transportation would be cut. The federal budget is only an authorization to spend. It doesn’t provide any money. There is no intention of increasing the gas tax (Rep. Graves staff repeatedly expressed the position that the Congressman was adamant about not raising the gas tax) yet there is no meaningful discussion or progress toward finding an alternative funding mechanism. Don’t count on the continued transfer from general revenue to make up the difference.
One possibility is funding transportation at the level generated by the current gas tax. That would be a shock for roads and transit. Transit agencies would lose a huge amount of their funding if this is the final decision. Since a lot of the federal money classified as preventive maintenance is used for operating costs, there would be severe service cuts under this scenario.
If you care about transit, call your Congressional representatives and ask them to find a way to fund transit at or above the current level. Tell them why it is important to you! Speak up about finding a method to pay for the infrastructure improvements needed and remind them how important transit is for people to get to work and perform necessary tasks like getting groceries and going to the doctor. If you can, go to their town hall meetings with the same message.
Janet Rogers 4/12/2011