Congress Continues 2010 Funding for DOT and Other Federal Agencies Through December 3rd with Continuing Resolution (CR)

Congress Continues 2010 Funding for DOT and Other Federal Agencies Through December 3rd with Continuing Resolution (CR)

On September 30, the last day of the 2010 Federal Fiscal Year, the U.S. Congress sent the President legislation (which he has signed) funding the federal government at 2010 authorized levels on a temporary basis until December 3rd.

The Congress has recessed until after the mid-term elections and will reconvene on November 15 for a lame duck session that could run until well into December.  In this session, Congress will wrap up all 12 federal agency funding bills, including the DOT, into one “omnibus” appropriations bill rather than consider each one separately.

Since a reauthorization bill has not yet been enacted, the CR funds MCSAP and other state safety grant programs at the maximum SAFETEA-LU authorized levels as has been the case for the 2010 FY.  However, it is expected that FMCSA will receive an extra $20 million over SAFETEA-LU limits to assist in the implementation of CSA 2010 since both the House and Senate DOT/HUD Appropriations Subcommittees approved this increase.

CR Did Not Renew or Make Permanent the Maine and Vermont Size and Weight Pilot

Despite reports that the Obama Administration had asked Congress to make this pilot permanent in the CR, it did not happen.  The pilot would allow trucks operating on the Interstate Highway System in these states to exceed the current federal weight limit of 80,000 lbs.  However, there is still a possibility that language making the pilots permanent may be included in the “omnibus” appropriations bill.

CVSA had recommended to the Senate Appropriations Committee and Secretary of Transportation LaHood that if the pilot is extended, specific criteria for implementing the pilot should be developed that would enhance the pilot and allow for the collection of the safety and other pertinent data consistent with CVSA’s current size and weight reauthorization policy.  Since this enhancement language was not in the Senate Appropriations Committee as reported out of the Committee, it is unlikely that it will be added in the omnibus appropriations bill.  However, CVSA’s Size and Weight Committee has been engaged with FHWA and FMCSA on this issue and FHWA is working with enforcement officials in both Maine and Vermont on various aspects of the pilot.  The enhancement of the pilot may well be accomplished administratively through the efforts of FHWA working with state officials and industry.

Over and above the Maine/Vermont pilot, size and weight is sure to be an issue in the next reauthorization bill.  This summer, Senate Bill 3705 was introduced by Senators Collins of Maine, Crapo of Idaho, and Kohl of Wisconsin.  It is identical to HR 1799, introduced in the House last year by Rep. Michaud of Maine allowing all states to authorize the operation of trucks up to 97,000 lbs. on their Interstate highways.

Bus Safety Bill is a Priority on the Senate’s Agenda

As reported in our Legislative Update of December 17, 2009, the Senate Commerce Committee reported out S. 554, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act in December of 2009.  It is ready to be brought to the floor of the Senate at anytime, and may well be up for a vote in advance of the reauthorization bill.  On the day before the Senate recessed last week for the mid-term elections, the bus safety bill was ‘hotlined” meaning that it could come up for a Senate vote under “unanimous consent” with only a voice vote required.  However, it can only be brought to the floor if all 100 Senators agree ahead of time.  Under this process, any Senator can place a “hold” on the bill preventing a floor vote.  In this instance, one Senator did.  In any event, the bus safety bill came close to passing the Senate and it may well come up for consideration again in the lame-duck session.

Cross Border Trucking Program with Mexico Still on Hold

The 2011 DOT Appropriations bill (now on hold until December 3) as reported out of Committee earlier this year, had directed the DOT to report on a cross-border trucking program with Mexico by October 1st.  Obviously, this timetable cannot be met due to the fact that the 2011 DOT Appropriations is on hold at least until December 3rd.  Nevertheless, it appears Congress will continue to press this issue since Mexico has placed tariffs on many U.S. agricultural products because the border has not yet opened.

UCR Fee Schedule to Remain Unchanged in 2011

At its August 12 meeting, the UCR Board voted to keep the new 2010 fee structure in place for the calendar year 2011.

Truck Safety Technology Bill ( H.R. 2024 and S. 1532.) Continues to Draw Support 

The Teamsters Union has recently expressed an interest in the bill and if they decide to support the bill, it may help the coalition working for passage of the bill gain more co-sponsors in the House.  There are currently 37 co-sponsors in the House.  Even though this legislation will in all likelihood will be up for consideration as part of the reauthorization bill next year, the more co-sponsors obtained, even in the current Congress, will  help ensure that it is considered next year.

Senators Pryor (D-AR) and Alexander (R-TN) Introduce Bill Mandating EOBR’s

On September 29, Senators Pryor and Alexander introduced legislation (S. 3884) mandating the use of Electronic-on-Board Recorders industry wide.  A copy of the bill is attached.   They introduced the bill at this point in time to allow for as much time as possible for stakeholders to review the bill and to obtain broad support for the bill prior to the consideration of the reauthorization bill early next year.

CVSA representatives met with Sen. Pryor’s staff this past Friday to indicate our strong support for the bill and to discuss certain items such as data accessibility/availability for enforcement, certification of the technologies, transfer of the EOBR data to the inspector at the roadside, and the potential costs to the states in terms of impacts and to ensure adequate funding is made available for implementation.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Reauthorization Raises Enforcement Issues

In recent testimony before the House Security Subcommittee on the reauthorization of TSA, the American Bus Association advocated that FMCSA be given the sole responsibility for safety and security audits rather than have such audits duplicated by the two agencies.

CVSA has also responded to a Senate Commerce Committee inquiry with respect to the need for HM background checks on all HM endorsed drivers.  CVSA indicated that these should be two separate credentials with the HM endorsement used as a safety credential for all HM drivers and the TWIC serving as a security credential for those hauling security sensitive materials.  The background check requirements should be structured such as to not put undue burden/costs on the industry.

It appears unlikely that Congress will take action on TSA reauthorization until next year.

Reauthorization a Possibility in Early Months of 2011 in New Congress

When President Obama announced his $50 billion Infrastructure Bank proposal on Labor Day, few details were provided except that he indicated that this would be the first step in seeking passage of a six-year transportation bill which his Administration would submit to the Congress along with the 2012 budget early next year. The issue of how to pay for a six-year bill still remains the sticking point.  Few believe that an Infrastructure Bank would provide all of the revenue needed which leaves an increase in the fuel tax as the only other viable option.

A minority staff member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently addressed a transportation group in Washington and mentioned for the first time the possibility that Congress would pass only a two or three-year bill, instead of the traditional six-year bill possible eliminating the need for a fuel tax increase and, instead, use general fund money to make up the difference between what a three-year bill would cost and what the Highway Trust Fund would be able to sustain for that period. This option would very likely result in a significantly scaled down version of a transportation bill with more limited increases in funding and resources.

The current extension of SAFETEA-LU expires on December 31 of this year.  A further extension will be one of the items on the agenda of the lame-duck Congress.  The length of the next extension bill should provide a pretty good indication of whether Congress is serious about taking up reauthorization early in the next Congress.

Senate Commerce Committee Discussions

CVSA is engaged in ongoing discussions with the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee on Grant flexibility, Maintenance-of-Effort, safety exemptions, New Entrants, the issue of inter and intra-state enforcement of the safety regulations, and the issue of registration versus operating authority.

CVSA recently had a constructive meeting with Edison Electric Institute staff and one of their key state utility company members about the hours-of-service exemption provided to Utility Service Drivers in SAFETEA-LU.  While, as expected, they did not want to lose the specific statutory exemption in SAFETEA-LU, they were open to further discussions on the issue to forge common ground for ensuring safety and looking into more innovative ideas such as the implementation of fatigue management plans.