Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is the Metro Editor for WNYC News. She has previously served as Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
The House Ways and Means Committee voted to to remove funding for transit from the highway trust fund by a 20 to 17 vote. The vote was mostly along party lines, with two Republicans voting against it.
In his opening statement, House Ways and Means Committee Chair David Camp (R-MI) said:
"The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has recently estimated that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money for highway projects in Fiscal Year 2013 and for mass transit projects in Fiscal Year 2014. The bill before us today will provide stable funding for these projects for at least the next 5 years—without raising a dollar in new or higher taxes or adding a penny to the deficit."
But transit advocates see it as a gutting of what's been a reliable -- if diminishing -- source of funds for mass transit. Instead of using a small fraction of the gas tax to fund transit, the bill pushes that funding over to the general fund -- which means it would be subject to yearly appropriations, leaving its future uncertain.
In a letter signed by some 200 transit advocates, including the American Public Transportation Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Transportation for America, the signatories wrote:
"In place of gasoline tax revenues, the legislation would provide a one-‐time $40 billion transfer of General Fund revenues to the Alternative Transportation Account. Not only is this level of funding insufficient to fully fund the proposed authorized levels for the Alternative Transportation Account, but it would subject transit and CMAQ funding to the annual appropriations process. This change will make it impossible for public transit systems across the country to plan for the future. It will also make it impossible for the FTA to honor grant agreements."
After the vote, David Goldberg, Communications Director for T4America, wasn't shy about expressing his disgust:
"It is a cruel blow to the millions of Americans who use public transportation and to those who would like the option in the future," Goldberg said. "Everybody can expect their air quality to get worse and will see no relief from congestions."
The bill now goes to the full House. If it passes, it would need to be reconciled with a vastly different Senate bill. An agreement must be reached -- or an extension approved -- by March 31.