Monday, September 21, 2009

DC Update from Smart Growth America

September 21, 2009

Senate Passes the FY2010 Transportation and Housing Spending Bill

After almost a week of debate over amendments, the Senate has approved its $122 billion FY 2010 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill by a vote of 73 to 25. The House approved its version of the bill on July 23 by a vote of 256-168. The discretionary funding levels in the bill vary just slightly between the Senate and House versions, with the Senate spending $67.7 billion and the House providing $68.8 billion. The most significant difference is over spending on high-speed rail and funding for a National Infrastructure Bank. The Administration has made it clear that funding for high-speed rail is a priority issue for them. The White House has sought $1 billion a year for high-speed rail over the next five years. Smart Growth America is supporting the higher level of funding for high speed rail included in the Senate bill.

These bills also include $150 million for HUD's new sustainable communities effort, which will largely help fund planning grants to communities and regions. HUD will be releasing a process for the structure and application of those grants sometime after final passage of the appropriations bill.

During the week prior to passage, Senate Republicans offered a number of amendments to the bill in an attempt to strip all earmarked funding. The failed amendments included an amendment from John McCain (R-AZ) to block funding for HUD's brownfields economic development program and an amendment from Tom Coburn (R-OK) to remove a requirement that states spend 10 percent of their highway and transit cash on transportation enhancement projects, such as pedestrian and bike paths, scenic and historic highway programs, and environmental mitigation (See the vote for the Coburn amendment).

The Senate did pass an amendment offered by Senator Wicker (R-MS) that requires Amtrak to allow passengers to transport their guns in their checked luggage or lose their funding if they fail to comply within 6 months. This language was adopted by a vote of 68-30.

The Senate and House conferees are expected to meet in the next few weeks to work out the differences between the bills. The version approved by the House does not include the amendment related to firearms on Amtrak.

Senate Begins Work on FY 2010 Interior-Environment Spending Bill

On Thursday, the Senate began debate on the FY 2010 Interior and Environment appropriations bill before completing the Transportation-HUD bill. Debate on amendments will continue on Monday with more votes scheduled for Tuesday. The bill includes $32.1 billion in discretionary spending, which is a $4.5 billion increase over 2009 levels, but slightly less than the $32.3 billion in the House-passed bill and $225 million less than requested by the Administration.

It includes $5.146 million for the EPA smart growth office, as requested by the Administration, and close to Smart Growth America's request for $6 million. Funding for the Smart Growth office is not expected to be targeted by amendments, but debate will be monitored.

Congress Expected to Address Transportation Authorization with Extension

Legislation to reform and fully fund the aging national surface transportation system has been placed on the backburner for much of the summer. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN), who once spoke strongly against any delay, is now pushing for a 3-month extension. Three Senate bills that were approved by committees before the August recess have been consolidated into one. The bill, which would extend the current transportation law by 18 months and transfer $20 billion into the Highway Trust Fund, is expected to be brought to the floor this week.

Decisions on an extension will have to play out before the current law expires on September 30, 2009. Although many lawmakers are calling for quick action on this issue, history is not on their side. SAFETEA-LU was signed into law two years and 12 extensions after its predecessor was scheduled to expire.

Senate Climate Legislation Expected in the Coming Weeks

Senator Boxer is expected to release the Senate's version of comprehensive climate legislation at the end of September. The House passed their version of the climate bill in June, which only allocates up to 1% for green transportation. Action is needed to ensure that the Senate bill dedicates more funding to support planning and green transportation, as in CLEAN-TEA which allocates 10% of funding for these purposes.

TAKE ACTION: Call and email Senator Dodd and Senator Leiberman today and ask them to tell Senator Boxer that significant funding for green transportation is needed to create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which makes up about 1/3 of emissions in the U.S.

Visit the SGA Advocacy Center for more information and talking points.

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