Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What's in the Deal for Transit and Community Programs?

I have yet to see specifics about transit or community transportation in articles about the proposed bipartisan debt-ceiling/deficit-reduction package. Instead of writing about missing details, I will take a page from the Daily Show - no, I won't attempt comedy - and look back at the bipartisan commission that is the source for the current proposal.

In late 2010, the chairs of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and retired Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), released detailed draft recommendations and a PowerPoint summary explaining their plan to significantly cut the federal budget and reduce the national debt.

Lots of Details

Their recommendations included freezing federal employee salaries and cutting the federal workforce, reducing the number of contract positions, and reducing the amounts spent on federal travel. Their plan would eliminate the Economic Development Administration and merge the Department of Commerce with the Small Business Administration. For transportation, there would be a 15-cent increase in the gas tax. There is much more. If you want details, refer to both the draft recommendations and the PowerPoint because they cover somewhat different topics.

This blog covered the responses from national organizations within the transportation world in November.

In December 2010, the Commission issued its report and in January 2011, the members of the Commission released their individual statements.

Transportation

The Commission report addresses transportation specifically.
Under current law, the Transportation Trust Fund has hybrid budget treatment in which contract authority is mandatory, while outlays are discretionary. This hybrid treatment results in less accountability and discipline for transportation spending and allows for budget gimmicks to circumvent budget limits to increase spending. The Commission plan reclassifies spending from the Transportation Trust Fund to make both contract authority and outlays mandatory, and then limits spending to actual revenues collected by the trust fund in the prior year once the gas tax is fully phased in. Shortfalls up until that point would be financed by the general fund.

The Commission recommends gradually increasing the per gallon gas tax by 15 cents between 2013 and 2015. Congress must limit spending from trust funds to the level of dedicated revenues from the previous year. Before asking taxpayers to pay more for roads, rail, bridges, and infrastructure, we must ensure existing funds are not wasted. The Commission recommends significant reforms to control federal highway spending. Congress should limit trust fund spending to the most pressing infrastructure needs rather than forcing states to fund low-priority projects. It should also end the practice of highway authorization earmarks such as the infamous Bridge to Nowhere.
Transit, community transportation and other modes are not addressed. Nor were they mentioned in the President's deficit reduction speech in April 2011, covered here.

News Will Be Out Soon

Well, we will all know soon whether the current Senate bipartisan proposal will take hold in the House. If it does, the transportation and infrastructure provisions will influence reauthorization whenever that happens, and specifically funding for transit, community transportation and zero-emission modes.

1 comment:

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