House Jobs Bill Answers Some Key Transportation Questions

The $75 billion House jobs bill, expected to pass later today before the chamber adjourns for the holidays, includes $27.5 billion for roads and $8.4 billion for transit, largely mirroring this year’s first economic stimulus law.

jobs_bill.pngThe header of today’s House jobs bill: No one ever said they’re easy reads! (Image: House Rules Cmte)

However,
the legislation also makes some small but notable changes to the
stimulus’ transportation architecture that only the biggest
transportation wonks might notice. Here is a rundown of just a few:

  • Remember those $100 million in stimulus grants that went to
    particularly energy-efficient transit projects? The House jobs bill
    would set aside the same amount from the $8.4 billion transit pool for
    another round of awards.
  • The first stimulus included "use it or lose it"
    language that required states to obligate their transportation money
    within 180 days or risk losing a sizable chunk of the cash. The new
    House jobs bill — with Florida in mind, perhaps — cuts that to 90 days, for both roads and transit.
  • House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) new six-year federal bill remains stalled,
    but today’s jobs measure assumes a bright future for one element of his
    vision: the U.S. DOT Office of Expedited Project Delivery (OEPD), which
    Oberstar wants to ride herd on massive projects and ensure the
    bureaucratic process moves smoothly.
  • The jobs bill would give the new OEPD $6.5 million in total to help oversee new spending.

  • With transit agencies across the country
    struggling to close large deficits in their operating budgets — that
    is, the funds to keep bus drivers in their seats and train ticket
    windows open — the House jobs bill would allow states to use 10
    percent of their transit money on operating. A similar provision was applied to the first stimulus law after the fact.

    The
    operating-aid deal was secured by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and hailed
    by the Transportation Equity Network, where executive director Laura
    Barrett issued the following statement:

    This
    will help put transit employees around the country to work, and it will
    help the rest of America get to work. If we really care about jobs,
    though, we need far more federal funding for public transit. Public
    transit creates more jobs per dollar of government spending than
    highway construction or repair. Public transit jobs are the original
    green jobs, they’re unionized, and they build lives and careers.

  • Speaking of Oberstar’s stalemate-plagued transportation bill, today’s jobs legislation would extend its 2005 predecessor until September 30, 2010.

    That
    re-up of existing policy would theoretically provide the House and
    Senate room to work out a deal on a new bill; but if 2009 is any guide,
    short-term extensions may become the norm as the Obama administration
    continues to push for a delay into 2011.

    Separately,
    the House added a two-month extension of the 2005 federal
    transportation bill to a Pentagon budget measure that is a must-pass in
    the Senate. That shorter extension is the more likely to become law.

The
House jobs bill addresses the financial future of the nation’s highway
trust fund, which has lost money as the gas tax’s relative value
shrinks (and also includes money for transit as well as bike-ped
projects).
Near the end of the legislation is language that would follow the lead of a Senate compromise
struck in July. Its main elements: telling the Treasury to transfer
$14.7 billion to highway accounts and $4.8 billion to transit accounts
to make up for years
when the trust fund was blocked from collecting interest. Today’s bill
also formally reverses a decade-old bargain and allows interest to
begin accruing once more.

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