Commerce Committee Moves Reauthorization Titles
Earlier this week, the Senate Commerce Committee marked up several bills, including the FMCSA, HazMat and NHTSA titles, completing most of their work for the reauthorization. Despite some contention over a non-related freight provision, the motor carrier safety bill was reported out of Committee, though it was approved by the Committee on a party line vote.
The Commerce bill contains a number of positive items for CVSA. First and foremost, funding levels are kept steady and additional flexibility is provided with MCSAP grant funds. In addition, the bill addresses a number of key CVSA issues, such as maintenance of effort (MOE), registration and new entrant requirements to help address the chameleon carrier threat; fine limits; CDL and driver training requirements; EOBRs; safety rating reciprocity with Canada; development of a drug and alcohol clearinghouse; comprehensive truck size & weight study; motorcoach safety; and, the impact to safety and the existing regulatory framework.
However, work remains to be done on the bill, particularly regarding the grant funding levels, administration and distribution, matching requirements and the takedowns for training. The bill calls for an increase in the administrative take down from the basic MCSAP program from 1.25% to 1.5%. In addition, it decreases the requirement for non-government employee expenditures from 75% to 50%. The bill also adds a 1.4% administrative take down from the new Driver Training grant program. In addition, the border grants program has been reduced from a 100% federal share to at least 80% federal. CVSA staff has been discussing our concerns on this issue with staff. We’ll continue to work with them, as well as their colleagues on the House side, to ensure that States receive the funds they need.
With the EPW and Commerce titles complete, the Senate is now waiting on the Banking Committee, which is responsible for the transit piece of the bill, and the Finance Committee, in charge of finding the necessary funding for the overall package. However, Finance Chairman Max Baucus had not publicly identified a source for the $12 billion necessary to close the funding gap.
Senate Reauthorization Update
The Senate EPW Committee has marked up their portion of the next reauthorization. Typically, EPW is the lead committee and others follow suit. EPW has jurisdiction over FHWA and hard infrastructure primarily, while most of CVSA’s issues fall under the purview of the Senate Commerce Committee. Now that EPW has approved their portion of the bill, we are hearing that Banking, Finance and Commerce will do the same, most likely following Thanksgiving.
The bill is a 2-year bill (FYs 12/13) with funding set at the current levels, however, the issue of funding is still not resolved and the $12 billion deficit remains. If the offset cannot be found, there is a ‘ratchet’ mechanism worked into the bill to reduce the annual funding levels to keep the HTF solvent. Over all, the bill seeks to expedite project delivery and streamline the federal process, while giving states more flexibility with federal funds, as long as certain minimum performance measures for performance and safety are met. Most of the bill does not touch on CVSA member issues. However, 4 key sections stand out.
First, the bill seeks to redefine the National Highway System (NHS), shifting some roadways onto the system and some off. The real world impact of this shift is still being analyzed.
Second, the bill adds the definition a “conventional combination vehicle” to Title 23 and defines it as:
- (A) truck-tractor semi-trailer combinations with semi-trailers up to 53 feet in length and 102 inches in width; ß up from 48 feet previously
- (B) truck-tractor, semi-trailer, or trailer combinations with each semi-trailer and trailer up to 28.5 feet in length and 102 inches in width; and
- (C) drive-away saddlemount combinations, not to exceed 97 feet in overall length, with up to 3 truck tractors, with or without a full mount, towed by a truck tractor.
The bill sets requirements regarding their use, requiring that states allow these vehicles on the newly defined NHS. The adjustments to the NHS will likely cause a great deal of confusion for the states and various organizations are working on determining the exact impact of the language. We have been told by Senate staff that the changes are largely technical, because some existing language was repealed and the provision had to be applied to the new language.
Third, the bill incorporates the language from Jason’s law, identifying the nation’s truck parking shortage a national priority and making construction of new facilities and expansion of and improvements to existing facilities available for funding in a number of programs. The section also directs the Secretary to conduct a survey regarding the availability of parking facilities within each State in order to evaluate each states’ ability to meeting parking needs, evaluate traffic levels in each state and to develop a system of metrics to measure the adequacy of parking facilities in the State.
Fourth, the bill permits states to waive federal S&W restrictions during declared emergencies to provide relief supplies.
A summary of the bill, various amendments and bill text for S. 1813 can be found here.
House Reauthorization Update
Meanwhile, action on the House side appears to moving as well. Today, Speaker Boehner held a press conference with Chairman Mica to provide some information on the forthcoming House proposal. Leadership indicated that a fully funded, 5-year bill would be revealed in the coming weeks and the House would vote on the measure, HR 7 – American Energy Infrastructure Jobs Act, by the end of the year. While Speaker Boehner has committed to the House completing a bill this year, there is a great deal of process left to be completed. The T&I Committee must introduce and approve their bill, then other Committees, particularly Ways & Means, have to complete their portions and floor time must be scheduled. Staff was optimistic that a bill could be completed by both chambers, conferenced and signed by the President prior to the current March 31st extension deadline.
We met with T&I majority staff this week to reinforce a number of CVSA’s policy positions. The conversation focused on Grants and grant flexibility, MOE, truck size & weight issues, exemptions, bus safety, and the need to make size and weight enforcement labor and other ‘soft’ costs eligible for federal funding under the federal aid program. Staff listened, but did not provide a great deal of feedback or insight into what will be in the bill, the contents of which are being closely guarded by House staff. She did indicate that, while the bill is not finalized, it is very close to being complete and Committee action can be expected soon.
While there are a number of hurdles to clear before Congress can accomplish that goal, the fact that both parties, on both sides of the Hill are at least talking about it appears to be a good sign.
2012 Appropriations Measure
Earlier this week, House and Senate leaders agreed to a conferenced version of the 2012 ‘minibus’ bill that contains transportation funding provisions for FY 2012. The House is set to vote today and the Senate tomorrow. As no amendments are permitted at this point, the measure is expected to pass as written. Of interest in the spending measure:
- CVISN – Senator Thune’s (R-SD) hold harmless language survived the conference and was included (for more detail see 11/4 Legislative Update). It reads:
“Sec. 131. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, States receiving funds for core or expanded deployment for core or expanded deployment activities under the Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks program pursuant to sections 4101 (c)(4) and 4126 of Public Law 109-59 that did not meet award eligibility requirements set forth in section 4126; received grant amounts in excess of the maximum amounts specified in sections 4126 (c)(2) or 4126 (d)(3); or were awarded grants either prior to or after the expiration of the period of performance specified in a grant agreement, “shall not be required to repay grant amounts received in error under such sections and, in addition, shall be reimbursed for core or expanded deployment expenditures such States made before the date of the enactment of this Act in reliance on a grant awarded in error under such sections.”
- Funding Levels – Funding levels in the bill are set at:
- MCSAP – $212 million
- New Entrants - $29 million
- CDL – $30 million
- Border – $32 million
- PRISM – $5 million
- CVISN – $25 million
- Safety Data Improvement – $3 million
- Maine & Vermont Exemptions – The bill includes a 20-year exemption, through 2031, from Federal size & weight requirements for both Maine and Vermont.
Congressmen Graves and Congressman Luetkemeyer, both of Missouri, have introduced legislation, HR 3265, providing a statutory Hours of Service exemption for the movement of farm materials, such as fertilizers and equipment, during the harvest season. CVSA met with staff from their offices to discuss the bill and were told that the bill is in response to a recent interpretation by FMCSA that limits movement of supplies specifically to one type of fertilizer. The bill would expand the exemption to all movements of all necessary supplies; something which they say already exists in federal law, but has been interpreted differently by FMCSA. We shared with staff our thoughts on statutory exemptions, and encouraged them to consider adding language providing for a regular safety review of the exemption. We provided this feedback to the House T&I Committee staff as well. FMCSA has expressed concern over the ‘source to retail’ movement portion of the bill, arguing that that segment is not covered under the exemption.
Yesterday, House Speaker Boehner announced that the House would pass the long-delayed surface transportation authorization before the end of 2011. Funding for the bill will come, according to the Speaker, from new oil and gas exploration revenues. He and T&I Committee Chairman Mica have been hinting at this approach for the past few weeks, however, further details on the revenue source were not provided. House T&I Committee staff have confirmed that they are working to move the legislation quickly. Meanwhile, the Senate EPW committee has scheduled a markup of their reauthorization proposal for next Wednesday, November 9th. Should the EPW Committee move forward with their markup, the Senate Commerce Committee would most likely follow suit in December. A couple of notes, however. First, there’s a lot of ground for the Speaker to cover between now and passing a bill and this is far from a guarantee that it will be done. Further, even if it moves in the House, the Senate is another beast entirely. And speaking of the Senate, while Senator Boxer has scheduled a markup, until it happens, it’s not a sure thing. She has scheduled and cancelled markups in the past and as of last week no definitive ‘pay for’ had been found to make up the $12 billion funding hole. She has called finding that funding crucial to moving forward with her bill. It’s certainly positive news that everyone is now talking about completing a bill – but actually doing so is easier said than done.
Final Senate DOT Appropriations Bill Further Clarifies CVISN Relief Provision
Earlier this week, the Senate voted on and passed the a ‘minibus’ appropriations bill that included the transportation spending bill. In the bill, Senator Thune of South Dakota won passage of his amendment to further clarify the CVISN hold harmless provision as originally approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in its markup.
“Sec. 131. Notwhithstanding any other provision of law, States receiving funds for core or expanded deployment for core or expanded deployment activities under the Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks program pursuant to sections 4101 (c)(4) and 4126 of Public Law 109-59 that did not meet award eligibility requirements set forth in section 4126; received grant amounts in excess of the maximum amounts specified in sections 4126 (c)(2) or 4126 (d)(3); or were awarded grants either prior to or after the expiration of the period of performance specified in a grant agreement, need not repay such funds.”
The Thune amendment strikes: “need not repay such funds” and substitutes the following language:
“shall not be required to repay grant amounts received in error under such sections and, in addition, shall be reimbursed for core or expanded deployment expenditures such States made before the date of the enactment of this Act in reliance on a grant awarded in error under such sections.”
This will be an issue for House/Senate Conference to consider since the House bill does not contain such a provision.
Senate Takes Up FY 2012 DOT/THUD Appropriations Bill Final Vote Due October 31
As of this writing, the Senate is coming close to wrapping up it’s consideration of HR 2112 that would fund DOT for the remainder of the 2012 Fiscal Year, but due to a Senate recess the last week of October, the final vote will occur on Monday, October 31st. As reported in the September 23rd, Legislative Update, the Senate bill funds motor carrier state safety grants, including MCSAP, at a slightly higher level than the House version of the bill which has not yet been scheduled for a vote on the House floor. When the House and Senate reconcile the two bills in Conference, the final funding limits will at least reflect the highest authorized levels under SAFETEA-LU.
The Senate bill also contains a provision at the request of Sen. Collins of Maine that would make the Maine/Vermont truck weight pilot program permanent. It would increase the limit on Interstate Highways in those states to 100,000 lbs. from the current federal limit of 80,000 lbs.
During consideration of HR 2112 on the Senate floor, Sen. Ayotte of New Hampshire, was preparing to offer an amendment that would prevent the use of federal funds to finalize, implement or enforce FMCSA’s December 29, 2010 proposed new hours-of-service rule. CVSA sent a letter (attached) to each member of the Senate pointing out it could lead to a situation where no funds would be available to enforce either the new rule or even the preceding hours-of-service rule that is now in existence. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, also sent a letter stating his objections to the amendment pointing out that it serves to undermine the regulatory process (attached). Thus far in the process, which will be concluded on October 31st, Sen. Ayotte’s amendment has not been cleared for a vote on the Senate Floor. But there are reports that she is attempting to revise her amendment to address the issue raised by enforcement. We will report the outcome through our Legislative Update after the Senate takes final action early next week.
Finally, the Senate bill, as we reported earlier, contains language holding the states harmless with respect to CVISN funds allocated to them beyond FMCSA’s statutory authority.
Reauthorization Moves a Notch Higher on the Congressional Agenda
On the House side, as we reported earlier, Republican Leadership has allowed Rep. John Mica, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to look for sources of funding that would support a longer-term reauthorization bill at least at current funding levels. His proposal earlier this year would have resulted in a 30 percent cut from current funding levels. The search for additional funding will not be easy, but the decision of the Republican Leadership at least opens the door for consideration of a long-term bill in the House, possibly next year.
On the Senate side, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has announced that her Committee will mark-up a two-year Reauthorization bill on November 9th. Her bill would retain current funding levels, but only if an additional $12-billion is found. The responsibility for coming up with the additional funding rests with the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Sen. Max Baucus. Unless he is able to identify such funding and get his Committee’s support for it, Sen. Boxer’s bill, though reported out of her Committee, could not be considered on the floor of the Senate with the funding issue unresolved.
The current status of the economy and the need to create more jobs is placing reauthorization higher on the Congressional agenda. Whether the jobs bill proposed by the Obama Administration earlier this fall will win Congressional approval is still uncertain at this point. Congress may have a higher comfort level addressing the jobs issue through a surface transportation bill since, in addition to creating more jobs, no one disputes the fact that our nation’s transportation infrastructure is badly in need of repair, upgrading, and new investment.
Senate Appropriations Committee Reports FY 2012 DOT Funding Bill
This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee completed its work on the
DOT/THUD 2012 funding bill. State motor carrier safety grants (MCSAP and CDL)
are funded at a slightly higher level than in the House bill.
The transportation funding bill for FY2012 is likely to be rolled into an omnibus funding bill that will hopefully be passed by both Chambers by November 18, the day on which the temporary Continuing Resolution (CR)* for all government agencies and departments will expire. In the interim, the House and Senate will conference the two bills and prepare them for final passage. At the very least, the funding limits (House bill) will reflect SAFETEA-LU authorized spending limits.
The Senate bill also contains a provision re-establishing and making permanent the truck weight exemption to 100,000 lbs. on the Interstate system in Maine and Vermont.
Senate Bill Addresses CVISN Funding Issue
The Appropriations bill also contains language holding the states harmless with respect to CVISN funds allocated to them beyond FMCSA’s statutory authority. The specific statutory language is as follows:
“Sec. 131. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, States receiving funds for core or expanded deployment activities under the Commercial Vehicle Identification Systems and Networks program pursuant to Sections 4101 (c) (4) and 4126 of Public Law 109-59 that did not meet award eligibility requirements set for the in section 4126; received grant amounts in excess of the maximum amounts specified in section 4126 (c)(2) or 4126(d)(3); or were awarded grants either prior to or after the expiration of the period of performance specified in a grant agreement need not repay such funds.” A copy of the Committee Report, attached, explains the purpose of the legislative language.
Late Breaking Development on a Long Term Reauthorization Bill
It was reported this morning that House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica told a group of transportation stakeholder groups on Thursday that the House Republican leadership has given him permission to seek additional revenues for the Highway Trust Fund above the excise tax receipt levels being deposited in the Trust Fund under existing law, as long as those additional revenues do not include an increase in the federal gasoline tax. This appears to indicate that the House Leadership has finally turned their attention towards the need to get a long-term surface transportation bill enacted during this 112th Congress (meaning sometime in 2012). This development does not guarantee a bill, but appears to offer a real possibility.
*As of this writing, Congress has not yet passed a CR that will fund the government from September 30 to November 18. The CR provides for a 1.4% across the board cut of all programs.
SAFETEA-LU Extended to March 31, 2012
Late yesterday, Congress passed legislation extending SAFETEA-LU six months until March 31, 2012. It was essentially a “clean” bill, but it does redistribute funding in the state motor carrier safety grant programs by cutting the CDLIS Modernization program, which had been funded at $8 million annually, and redistributing $5 million to the CDL grant program and $3 million to the basic MCSAP grant program. The Appropriations Committee had actually made this change in the 2010 FY Appropriations bill.
This extension merely sets the authorizing limits, or contract authority, for the next six months. Actual funding obligation limits will be determined by the 2012 Appropriations bill that has not yet cleared the Congress. As previously reported, the House Appropriations DOT/THUD Subcommittee passed their version of the 2012 funding bill last week. However, a final 2012 Appropriations bill will not be completed by September 30, 2012 in either the House or Senate, necessitating a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will likely expire sometime in mid-November.
As reported last week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee completed its work on the FY2012 Appropriations bill that funded motor carrier safety grant programs at the maximum authorized levels of SAFETEA-LU except for the $8 million a year CDLIS Modernization program which was cut. However, unlike the six-month Extension bill, the Subcommittee bill did not redistribute the $8 million to the CDL grant program and the MCSAP program.
In the meantime, Congress is expected to take action on an Appropriations CR next week. Indications are that it will basically be a “clean” CR. There will no cuts in programs funded out the Highway Trust Fund. Motor carrier safety grant programs will continue to be funded at current levels through at least November. However a 1.5% across the board recission is expected for all DOT discretionary programs which are not funded out the Highway Trust Fund.
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee May Provide CVISN Relief
The Senate Appropriations DOT/THUD Subcommittee has tentatively scheduled their markup session for the 2012 Appropriations bill for next Wednesday. Their bill would then be conferenced with the House bill in time for inclusion in the Omnibus Appropriations bill, which presumably will be taken up Congress before the expiration of the CR in November. There are indications that the Senate Subcommittee bill will contain language holding those states harmless with respect to CVISN grant money that has been either obligated or spent under an FMCSA allocation program that has been called into question by a recent GAO report.
We will report on the Subcommittee’s action as well as the CR later next week.
Senate Commerce Committee Motor Carrier Safety Bill on Hold
Sen. Lautenberg, Chairman of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, had been expected to introduce his final version of a motor carrier safety bill this month to be followed by a full Commerce Committee markup. This action has temporarily been put on hold in view of the passage of the 6-month SAFETEA-LU extension. CVSA has provided extensive input to the Committee as it worked on the final draft. Lautenberg’s bill is a very comprehensive bill that will likely deal with issues of importance to CVSA such as Maintenance-of-Effort (MOE), roadside bus inspections, motor carrier safety grant flexibility, motor and passenger carrier registration, new entrants and EOBR requirements.
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and HUD Approves 2012 Budget Bill
Yesterday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee approved and sent to the full House Appropriations Committee a FY 2012 Budget bill funding programs for both Departments. Funding provisions for FMCSA were included in the DOT section of the bill.
The Subcommittee essentially funded the State Safety Grant Programs including MCSAP at the maximum levels authorized under SAFETEA-LU that were reached in the 2009 FY. This has resulted in modest cuts for MCSAP and the CDL grant programs because in the 2010 and 2011 funding bills these programs were actually funded above the SAFETEA-LU maximum authorized ceiling.
For 2009, the year in which the maximum SAFETEA-LU funding limits were reached, the allocations were as follows:
$3,000,000: Safety Data Improvement
$9,000,000: CDLIS Modernization
For 2011, funding levels for some (*) of the programs was provided outside of the SAFETEA-LU parameters as follows:
$215,000,000: MCSAP *
$30,000,000: CDL *
$3,000,000: Safety Data Improvement
(dropped THE $9 MILLION CDLIS Modernization Funding)
For 2012, the Subcommittee has recommended the following:
$3,000,000: Safety Data Improvement
(Again, dropped the $9 Million CDLIS Modernization Funding)
When comparing the Subcommittee’s most recent recommendations to the funding levels for the last year of SAFETEA-LU authorization, MCSAP is still funded $1,000,000 above the limit, but the CDLIS Modernization program at $9,000,000 has again been dropped.
Whether this bill will clear the full Committee and be voted on by the House before September 30 is doubtful. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee has yet to take up the FY 2012 bill. This means a Continuing Resolution (CR) will be necessitated by September 30. Whether the CR, which is expected to keep the government funded through the middle of November, will continue the 2011 funding levels or reflect the new levels adopted by the House Subcommittee yesterday is not clear at this point.
The Subcommittee voted down an amendment by Congressman LaTourette (R-Ohio) to prevent FMCSA from paying for EOBR’s that will be required on Mexican trucks crossing the border into the U.S.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Votes on a 4 Month Extension of SAFETEA-LU
The full Committee voted to extend SAFETEA-LU through January 31, 2012. It was a clean extension. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has yet to formally take up this issue. Committee Chairman John Mica has been saying recently that he could support at least one extension of SAFETEA-LU.
Legislative Update for July 7, 2011
This morning, Congressman John Mica, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee presented an outline of the Reauthorization bill he plans to introduce. When the actual legislative language will be unveiled is still uncertain and depends on the legislative agenda of the House Leadership. The House is now pre-occupied with federal budget matters and the need to increase the federal debt ceiling. The section of the outline dealing with highway and motor carrier safety is attached.
For the first time in Committee history, the Chairman’s bill does not appear to have bi-partisan support. Ranking Member, Congressman Nick Rahall, and other Democrats on the Committee have objected to the overall lower funding level of the bill which is about $60 billion less than SAFETEA-LU authorized.
Chairman Mica did mention the possibility of another Committee hearing next Tuesday, July 12, to have further discussion of the issues presented in the outline. However, introduction of the actual bill and Committee markup would probably not occur until September. The current extension of SAFETEA-LU expires on September 30 of this year.
The attached outline of the section on highway and motor carrier safety is very general and reveals little if any detail on what the full legislative proposal will look like. Mr. Mica said that some issues had not been decided such as size and weight and the mandate of Electronic-On-Board Recorders.
Other than proposing programs that can be sustained by the current levels of revenue into the Highway Trust Fund, there was no discussion of specific funding levels for any of the DOT programs. Although Mr. Mica did say the bill would guarantee sufficient levels of funding for highway and motor carrier safety and that the safety programs would be held “somewhat harmless” from funding cuts. Hopefully, this means that at least the current levels of funding will maintained.
Probably the most significant proposal with respect to motor carrier safety is one that would consolidate grant programs and institute new performance measures for the states. Again, we’ll have to wait for further details.
This morning was a “sneak preview.” The full length feature is yet to come.
Passage of Six Year Reauthorization Bill This Year Is in Doubt
On the House Side
Rep. John Mica, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as of this writing, continues to say that he will introduce his bill within the next week or 10 days. The measure is expected to authorize an overall funding level of $219 billion which is $60 billion less than what SAFETEA-LU authorized.
We don’t yet know (until we see the copy of the bill) whether this means that authorized funding levels for MCSAP and the other state safety grant programs will be reduced from 2010 levels (highest limits under SAFETEA-LU). At various hearings, including the most recent bus safety hearing held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (during which CVSA was a witness), Chairman Mica has said that he wants to be sure that state enforcement agencies are provided the tools and resources needed to do their job. So, we can only hope that at least the current level of funding will be maintained.
The big question (as of this writing) is whether Chairman Mica will actually introduce the bill and report it out of his Committee without assurances from the House Republican Leadership that House Floor time will be scheduled for discussion, debate, and a final vote on the bill by the end of July, or at the latest, by September 30, 2011 when the current extension of SAFETEA-LU expires. The unresolved issue of increasing the Federal debt limit may consume most of the available House floor time. If he were to circulate his bill, and/or introduce it without such assurances, he could run the risk of having his bill subject to review and criticism for an indefinite period of time. On the other hand, the Chairman and his Committee staff have worked consistently and diligently to write a bill since January of this year. A number of Committee hearings were held across the country culminating with a two day marathon hearing in Washington, D.C. He may want to introduce a bill as evidence to his colleagues in the Congress and the public that he is doing his part to draft a bill that takes into account the current fiscal constraints that are affecting all Congressional legislative activity and yet maintains the “core” needs of a national surface transportation program.
On the Senate Side
Sen. Barbara Boxer, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that has jurisdiction over the highway titles of a Reauthorization bill has said that she is close to releasing a bill. Until recently, she has talked almost exclusively about a six year bill. However, within the past week, she has indicated that maybe a two year bill would be more feasible that would at least maintain current funding levels (Mica’s six year bill has to be at reduced funding levels because of Highway Trust Fund revenue constraints). It should be noted that even funding for a two-year bill could not be sustained at current levels unless another $12 billion is “infused” to the Highway Trust Fund. Sen. Boxer has said she is working with Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, to come up with proposals to make up for the estimated $12 billion shortfall.
The Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the motor carrier safety title of a reauthorization bill, is reportedly working on a two year bill, but there are no indications as to when it might be introduced. In an earlier Legislative Update, we reported that the Commerce Committee has taken action and voted a bus safety bill out of Committee.
Likely Outcome for Reauthorization This Year
Despite Chairman Mica’s best efforts, there are signals from the House Leadership (Speaker and Majority Leader) that a new six-year surface transportation bill is not on the “front burner” at this time. Rep. Mica himself has shown no interest in pursuing a shorter two-year bill. Sen. Boxer’s Committee may well report out a two-year bill after another round of hearings, but the bill would be unlikely to come to a vote on the Senate Floor, until the House passed their version of a Reauthorization bill, and as mentioned above, that is unlikely.
Thus, the odds are against Congress passing either a six or two year transportation bill by September 30 of this year when the current extension of SAFETEA-LU expires.
What Might Pass, if Anything
The Senate Commerce Committee reported out a bus safety bill (S. 453) in early May. At that markup, Sen. Lautenberg, Chairman of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, and Ranking Member, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, both said they were committed to getting that bill passed this year. Late last year, an effort was made to pass a bus safety bill under suspension of the rules by a voice vote on the Senate floor if all 100 Senators agreed. One member of Senate put a “hold” on the bill preventing passage. This time around, the bill would likely go the conventional route of being sent to the Senate for debate, discussion, and possible amendments, or become part of another SAFETEA-LU extension even though SAFETEA-LU extensions thus far have been “clean” extensions.
The question then becomes what other safety measures may be added to the bus bill, and will it in fact turn into a mini-motor carrier safety bill, perhaps not including all of the issues that would otherwise be included as part of a full six year bill, but nevertheless containing some safety policy issues that would be revenue neutral such as bus safety, grant streamlining, and Maintenance-of-Effort (MOE) reform. We will have a better idea of what the scenario will be during the month of July.
FY 2012 Appropriations
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development is scheduled to report out an FY 2012 funding bill on July 14. The overall Subcommittee allocations are based on a House Resolution that is based on the so-called Ryan budget (Rep. Ryan’s earlier proposal to cut the overall DOT budget by 35%). However, the Subcommittee has discretion to move funding around within its overall allocation. The following scenarios are possible. The Subcommittee could cut motor carrier safety funding back to the levels of 2006 or 2008. There is also the possibility that motor carrier safety programs would be funded at current levels. This is because MCSAP is not a controversial program and did not experience a sharp spike in funding over the last few years.
UCR 2012 Carrier Registration Fees
At its recent meeting on June 15 in Park City, Utah, the UCR Board voted to keep the current fee structure in place for 2012. Plans are to start sending the 2012 registration notices beginning October 1, of this year.
Bus Safety Hearing
On June 13, CVSA Vice-President David Palmer delivered testimony on behalf of CVSA before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on ways to improve bus safety. Click here to view a copy of a follow-up letter for the record, and an answer to a specific question from Rep. Mica for the record. In addition, you can view the Op-Ed piece that was published in the Congressional news daily, The Hill. As you can see bus safety has become an important issue for enforcement, the Congress, and the traveling public.
To our members in Canada, Happy Canada Day and to our U.S. members, Happy 4th of July!
Federal Agencies Funded Through March 4, 2011; SAFETEA-LU Also Extended to March 4, 2011; Funding for Remainder of FY 2011 Remains Uncertain
In the final hours of the 111th Congress in late December, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) that funded all federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation and FMCSA, through March 4, 2011 at 2010 funding levels. Earlier efforts to pass a regular appropriations bill funding the government for the remainder of the 2011 FY did not succeed.
While the short-term CR avoided an immediate shutdown of the government, the fact that it is just a temporary measure, along with the fact that SAFETEA-LU was only extended to March 4 as well*, creates a level of funding uncertainty for states as they try to administer an annual program such as MCSAP and other state safety programs. This is the 6th extension of SAFETEA-LU resulting thus far in 6 incremental funding allocations for the states with at least one more incremental allocation due by March 4. By March 4, well into the 2011 FY, the states will have received only 42.5% of funds approved at 2010 levels.
This CR did not renew the Maine/Vermont truck weight pilot program. It is not known at this time whether this issue will be considered as a part of legislation that will supersede the current March 4 CR.
Recent House Rules Change Creates Further Uncertainty for FY 2011 Funding
As one of the first orders of business, the newly assembled House of Representatives has adopted a new rule that in effect repeals the so-called Highway Trust Fund “firewall” that was adopted by the House in 1998. The “firewall” prohibits Congress from funding highway, transit, and highway safety programs at levels below those written into law by any Transportation authorization bill.
Supporters of the new rule say it is intended to prevent the government from being forced to spend more on surface transportation programs than the Highway Trust Fund collects. This has actually happened in the last few years. On the other hand state transportation departments point out that they can no longer be assured that they will receive authorized federal funding levels when yearly appropriations bills are enacted. The number of CR’s passed in the last few years has already created uncertainty even under the “firewall” protection.
The rule change could further impact funding levels for FY 2011 for FMCSA and MCSAP programs along with other state safety grant programs that are funded out of the Highway Trust Fund. The new House Leadership has said that their goal is to fund all government agencies and departments at 2008 funding levels. It is important to keep in mind that the series of CR’s thus far in this Fiscal Year have been providing funding at 2010 levels that are the highest authorized levels under SAFETEA-LU.
Should the new Congress follow through on their 2008 spending level goal, it could mean that funding available for safety programs from March 4 to September 30 of this year would be less than the 2010 rate of funding states are now receiving in order that by September 30, the total amount of funds received by the states for FY 2011 would be consistent with 2008 funding levels, not the current 2010 levels. For example, the current level for MCSAP which is the highest authorized limit under SAFETEA-LU is $209 million. The 2008 authorized limit is $202 million. FMCSA operational programs would suffer at least a cut of $6 million. While relatively small cuts, they come at a time when both states and FMCSA need additional resources to implement such programs as CSA. In its FY 2011 budget request to Congress, FMCSA had requested an additional $20 million to help with the implementation of CSA. It should be stressed that the new Congress has not yet drafted specific legislation that would supersede the current CR. Also, it is not known if highway safety programs would be exempt from the funding cuts necessitated by going back to the 2008 program levels.
Prospects for a Long-term Transportation Reauthorization Bill
As reported in earlier Legislative Updates, incoming House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman, John Mica, has given every indication he intends to write a new Reauthorization bill in his Committee early this spring with a goal of reporting such a bill to the House floor by summer. Chairman Mica’s record of service on the Committee he now chairs leaves no doubt about his strong commitment to the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure and highway and motor carrier safety. Also, he argued against the House rules change noted above.
With an increase in the federal fuel tax apparently off the table, Mr. Mica’s bill would probably not be able to fund programs much above SAFETEA-LU levels. However, since he says he would emphasize core highway and safety programs and not various other “enhancement” programs, the list of which has grown immensely in recent Reauthorization bills, some additional funding might be freed up. In addition, special earmarks and projects would be sharply reduced. Also, he mentions leveraging federal dollars with public/private partnerships.
Even though a gas tax increase is still of off the table, it should be pointed out that President Obama’s Commission for debt reduction did recommend an increase in the gas tax starting in 2013 in order to prevent any further general fund bailouts of the Highway Trust Fund. This recommendation is but one small part of a package that would bring about more general tax reform and spending reductions. Congress may, or may not, seriously consider the many recommendations in the Commission’s report, but there is always a possibility.
Also, no one can predict how a new Transportation bill, however modest, will be viewed by the 20 new Members of Mr. Mica’s Committee as well as the new House Leadership.
By any measure, a Transportation bill is still a major piece of legislation—a “big bill”—and most of the 90 plus newly elected Members of Congress pledged in their campaigns last fall to scale down existing government programs and not to enact any new “big” bills. However, as they learn that a Transportation bill will be largely paid for out of the Highway Trust Fund, and that it will promote economic growth as well as public safety, it could turn out that if the new Members were to support any new legislation, a Transportation bill might be the one.
It is also necessary to look at the Senate side in this discussion. The Senate Leadership and Committee Chairmen will not change in the new Congress. Environment and Public Works Chairman, Senator Boxer (D-CA) has committed to reporting a new bill out of her Committee. Commerce Committee Chairman, Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) and Surface Transportation Subcommittee Chairman, Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ), have committed to writing a new highway and motor carrier safety title of a Reauthorization bill.
All things considered, there is at least a chance for a new bill in 2011. We won’t really know until probably next month.
Stand Alone Safety Bill
In the event a Reauthorization bill does not pass both the House and Senate by next summer, the conventional thinking is that such a bill would not be taken up again until 2013, since 2012 is a Presidential election year, an unlikely time for passage of a major transportation bill. Should that be the case, there is a possibility that Congress would take up a stand-alone safety bill covering motor carrier and highway safety. This would be a rare occurrence, although the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 is one such example. That bill created FMCSA and almost doubled MCSAP funding.
Short of either a full scale Reauthorization bill, or a separate safety bill, there may be efforts to press the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to consider some of the more pressing safety issues that are ordinarily under the jurisdiction of the authorizing Committees. A recent example has been the Maine/Vermont truck weight pilot program. Also, in recent years, all issues pertaining to NAFTA have been dealt with in Appropriations bills.
Major Safety Issues
Whether a full Reauthorization bill, a separate safety bill, or an appropriations bill, some of the key safety issues for consideration are as follows:
Size and Weight
Even though the Maine/Vermont pilot truck weight pilot was not renewed in the series of CR’s passed by Congress in lieu of a full appropriations bill, the pilot has been a catalyst for hopefully a more comprehensive review of this country’s overall size and weight policy. It provides CVSA with an opportunity to press for a comprehensive pilot program that will yield much needed safety data which is fundamental to any size and weight analysis and any change in current size and weight national standards.
In addition, CVSA will press for a resolution of the size and weight enforcement funding issue. State enforcement agencies need funds to carry out their size and weight enforcement responsibilities. Size and weight enforcement that is not tied to an inspection is not an eligible MCSAP expense, nor is labor an eligible expense under the Federal–Aid Program.
In the closing days of the last Congress, a bus safety bill had been “hotlined” for a vote on the Senate floor. Procedural issues in the Senate prevented a vote, but the pressure to pass a bus safety bill remains strong.
Senators Pryor (D-AK) and Alexander (R-TN) introduced a bill in the last Congress mandating the use of EOBR’s. CVSA has organized an ad-hoc Committee to review the bill and is also participating in a task force of manufacturers and trucking industry representatives to also review the bill and provide feedback to Senators Pryor and Alexander. The use of EOBR’s has taken on added importance in light of FMCSA’s new hours-of-service proposal.
Safety Technology Bill
The “Truck Safety Technology Tax Incentive Act” which CVSA has been actively supporting has a good chance of being considered if a Reauthorization takes shape. The trucking industry supports the bill.
Exemptions from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations
A top priority of CVSA has been to sunset existing industry safety exemptions and to establish regulatory procedures for granting them as prescribed in Section 31315, Title 49, U.S. Code. Topping the list are the various hours-of-service exemptions provided to the agricultural and utility industries. CVSA’s discussion of this issue with the Senate Commerce Committee staff has already resulted in a Committee request to GAO to review this issue and catalogue all of the exemptions both in statute and in regulations that have been enacted since the 1950’s. Such a review should show the magnitude of the problem and the need to find ways to resolve it.
*Our apology for reporting in the December 21st Legislative Update that SAFETEA-LU had been extended to September 30, 2011 in the March 4 CR. The actual language of the CR was not on-line at the time of the Update and we relied on the best sources available. It wasn’t until the week after Christmas that we learned of the new revised extension date.