DOT Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2011
The House passed the 2011 DOT/HUD Appropriations bill, H.R. 5850, before the August recess. In the Senate, S. 3644 has been voted out of the Senate Appropriations Committee and will likely come to the Senate floor sometime in September. As has happened in the past, since this bill is one of the few bills which has cleared both Chambers on schedule, it may become the lead bill for an omnibus, multi-agency appropriations bill this fall. However, in the last couple of years, omnibus bills have had a history of not being passed by September 30, the end of the fiscal year; so once again, it is possible there will be a Continuing Resolution (CR).
Both the House and Senate bills fund MCSAP and other state safety grants at the SAFETEA-LU authorized limits which were the level approved for the current 2010 fiscal year. FMCSA’s 2011 budget was increased by $20 million for implementation of CSA 2010.
Regarding the issue of additional resources for the states to implement CSA 2010 (which is more of an issue for the authorizing committees than it is for the appropriations committees), it should be noted that CVSA spoke to this subject in our testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at the hearing on CSA 2010 earlier this summer. We pointed out that the best way for the states to be able to fully implement CSA 2010 would be for Congress to pass a new long-term Transportation bill with 90/10 funding and a revised Maintenance-of-Effort (MOE) formula.
Copies of the House and Senate Committee Reports on the legislation are attached. It is very common for the Appropriations Committee to request additional information and reports from agencies within their jurisdiction as they have with FMCSA. In some cases, it may be that CVSA can provide assistance to FMCSA in gathering information on the various issues.
You will notice in the Senate Report on page 70 that reference is made to FMCSA’s proposed two-year, hours-of-service exemption for transportation of anhydrous ammonia within a 100 air mile radius during planting and harvesting seasons. CVSA submitted comments to FMCSA on this proposal last week.
Maine and Vermont Size and Weight Pilot Project
As you may recall, a pilot project allowing weights in excess of the 80,000 lb. federal weight limit on Interstate highways in these states, was provided for in last year’s Senate Appropriations bill and eventually agreed to in a House-Senate conference. The 2011 bill passed by the House did not include a renewal of the pilot, nor did the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It is possible that language continuing the pilot may be inserted in the Senate appropriations bill at the last minute when the bill is up for consideration on the Senate floor. Whatever happens, the pilot will remain in effect until superseded by a new appropriations bill. A CR would continue the existing pilot along with all other programs.
CVSA sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee recommending that, if the pilot were renewed, it should be made more comprehensive and include the criteria for a pilot as detailed in CVSA’s size and weight reauthorization policy. Last year’s Appropriations bill provided little guidance to the states in this regard. CVSA believes that the Maine and Vermont pilots, if carried out on a more comprehensive basis for a longer period of time could provide the opportunity to gather much needed safety and infrastructure data as a basis for developing a new size and weight policy nationwide. We have learned that FHWA is working closely with Maine and Vermont to better construct the pilot and has organized six different work groups that are looking at different aspects of the pilot project.
Possibly in anticipation of the fact that the Main/Vermont pilot might not be renewed, a bill was introduced in the Senate in early August that would allow states to authorize the operation of trucks of up to 97,000 pounds on their interstate highways. Senate bill 3705, the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act, is sponsored by Senators Collins (R-Maine), Crapo (R-Idaho), and Kohl (D-Wisconsin). This bill is identical to H.R. 1799 introduced in the House last year whose lead sponsor is Rep. Michaud (D-Maine).
Cross-Border Trucking Program with Mexico
The Senate Appropriations bill as reported out of Committee directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish and report on a cross-border trucking program with Mexico by October 1 of this year. This provision was added by Sen.Patty Murray (D-Washington), Chairman of the Transportation/THUD Subcommittee in an effort to end retaliatory tariffs that were levied primarily on agricultural products by Mexico last year following a Congressional vote to discontinue the Mexican border pilot program that allowed a limited number of carriers from both the U.S. and Mexico to deliver beyond the commercial border zone.
On August 16, the Mexican Embassy in Washington announced that the Government of Mexico has renewed the list of U.S. goods subject to increased tariffs closely resembling last year’s list.
Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Toyota Bill) and Bus Safety Legislation
There is a possibility that the House may take action on this bill when it reconvenes in early September. It provides NHTSA with new enforcement and regulatory authority relating to recalls. If the House does act, the bill would then come back to the Senate to take action on its version of this bill, in which case, there is a distinct possibility that the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, S. 554, would be added at the urging of Senators Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) along with Sen. Rockefeller’s Distracted Driving bill, S. 1938. An EOBR mandate is in the bus safety bill and an Electronic Data Recorder is mandated in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
Although Congress may be in session for a relatively short period of time before adjourning sometime in October for the fall elections, there are indications that there may well be a lame-duck session of Congress after the elections allowing, among other things, for passage of the above safety legislation.
With regard to bus safety, on August 16, NHTSA issued an NPRM requiring new motorcoaches to have lap-shoulder belts. The proposed rule would take effect three years after the final rule is issued. There is a 90 day comment period and CVSA’s bus passenger committee will be developing comments to be filed on behalf of CVSA.
Safety and Security
In late July, the American Bus Association testified before the House Security Subcommittee on the reauthorization of TSA and advocated that FMCSA be given the sole responsibility for safety and security audits instead of having TSA do their own version of an audit. CVSA will closely monitor this issue as TSA Reauthorization progress through Congress.
Senate Commerce Committee Meeting on Reauthorization
CVSA met with both Majority and Minority staff of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security recently, at their invitation, to discuss our Reauthorization policies. It was a lengthy meeting allowing for a thorough discussion of all of CVSA’s major issues.
We will be following up with them on new entrant safety audit costs should they decide to establish a registration fee for new entrants. Regarding Maintenance-of-Effort, they asked for more examples from our state members on how the current MOE formula works to their disadvantage. They requested more specific language that would streamline/revise section of the U.S. Code, Title 49, on registration and operating authority with respect to new entrants and chameleon carriers. They also asked for specific examples of instances where interpretations of inter and intra-state operations were impeding enforcement.
It appears that both the Senate Commerce Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are doing the early spade work in developing a bill so that they will be ready when Reauthorization is actually on the table for consideration. The House did their work on the bill last year.
Even if there is a lame-duck session of Congress after the November elections, it appears they would not take up reauthorization at that time. The earliest expectation for such action would be in the first half of next year and even that is not a certainty. The sticking point remains that they must figure out a way to finance increased spending in the bill if they choose not raise the gas tax. Secretary LaHood and the Obama Administration have thus far opposed such an increase.
The wild card in all of this is the economy. If in fact, the economy recovery continues to stall and there is recognition of the need for more economic stimulus, a long-term transportation bill could quickly rise on the list of national priorities along with the need to rebuild other parts of our infrastructure including power, water, and sanitation systems.
Finally, there is a growing belief that if reauthorization doesn’t get done by next year, a separate version of a transportation safety bill might emerge. However, it is difficult to enact changes in safety policy with changing and increasing the funding structure for programs that depend on the Highway Trust Fund.
UCR 2011 Fee Schedule
At its August 12 Teleconference meeting, the UCR Board voted the keep the new 2010 fee structure in place for next year. Revenues received thus far under the new 2010 schedule appear to be meeting expectations.