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Eight Senate Dems Offer $2B Plan for Emergency Transit Operating Aid

Transit agencies forced to raise fares or cut service
to close budget gaps would be eligible for $2 billion in emergency
operating funds under legislation unveiled today by Senate Banking
Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) and seven other Democratic
senators, including two members of the party's leadership.

harry_reid_christopher_dodd_max_baucus_charles_schumer_richard_durbin_2009_8_4_16_40_23.jpgSens.
Chris Dodd (D-CT), left, Charles Schumer (D-NY), right, and Dick Durbin
(D-IL), second from right, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
(Photo: AP)

The
transit operating bill would authorize $2 billion in federal grants
aimed at helping local transit agencies reverse already-imposed service
cuts, fare increases, or worker layoffs -- provided that those changes
were forced by a shortfall in state or local transport budgets that
took effect after January 1, 2009. Any agency planning future service
cuts or fare hikes could use their grant money to stave off those moves
until September 2011.

"While
families continue to struggle to make ends meet, the last thing we should do is
make it harder and more expensive for people to get to work," Dodd said in a statement. "This bill will
prevent disruptive service cuts and help put money back in the pockets of
families when they need it most."

Those
transit agencies not pursuing service cuts, fare hikes, or layoffs
would be allowed to use the extra federal money for maintenance or
repair of existing infrastructure. The transit operating funds would be
distributed according to existing formulas, but the authorizing nature
of the bill means that the money will also need to be appropriated in a
separate piece of legislation.

Notably, the bill's
authorization remains in effect until September 2011, giving lawmakers
more than a year to find suitable appropriations vehicles to which the
operating aid bill can be attached.

In
addition, the legislation's short-term nature meets the conditions set
by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), which had
endorsed extra operating aid with the proviso that it not become a permanent fixture of the federal transit program.

Transportation for America (T4A), an infrastructure policy reform group that counts APTA as a member, hailed the bill's release.

“With demand for public
transportation service at its highest level in over 50 years, Congress must act
to protect Americans who rely on transit from service cuts and fare hikes that
threaten their ability to reach jobs and daily necessities," T4A director James Corless said in a statement. "This act will help
to preserve an economically essential service with a one-time,
emergency infusion that will help to save jobs and access to jobs."

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