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How Will the House Answer the Senate’s Transportation Funding Bill?

The full Senate passed a major appropriations bill yesterday, including funding levels for transportation and housing. The Senate put the kibosh on Sen. Rand Paul’s attempt to strip bike/ped funding from the federal transportation program, as we reported yesterday. Here’s the lowdown on the bill as a whole.

The upper chamber maintained funding for several key livability programs, teeing up a fight with the GOP-led House over spending levels. A finished 2012 budget is already a month overdue and despite the Senate passage of a “minibus” (as opposed to an “omnibus”) spending bill yesterday, no one seems to expect a completed bill anytime soon.

The Senate bill maintains current overall spending levels, which, in the current environment, is a win for advocates of transportation investment, though given that the numbers don’t account for inflation, they essentially amount to a spending cut.

Either way, these figures don’t shift the status quo very much. While funding for TIGER and transit projects gets a modest boost, high-speed rail has been sharply reduced in this bill. And, since this appropriation comes in the absence of a new reauthorization of the federal transportation program, which could set new policies, these funds come without any guarantee that the money will be spent more wisely, in the pursuit of strategic goals and keeping systems in a state of good repair.

The bill includes:

    • $550 million for the TIGER program, a key element of the shift away from formula funding and toward merit-based allocations for the most innovative projects. The bill sets aside almost a quarter of that funding for projects in rural communities. This funding level would represent a $23 million jump over the actual enacted number for this year.
    • $41 billion – the same as this year – for the Federal-aid Highway programSen. Barbara Boxer was disappointed that the Senate did the math differently this year – rather than allocating $44 billion and then rescinding $3 billion of it, this bill makes the cut upfront. While that appears to be a more straightforward way to do it, some fear that it makes the baseline funding level look lower. That means that future funding will be determined based on $41 billion, not $44 billion.

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