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!