T4America Blog

News, press releases and other updates

Senate compromise preserves transit funding — for now

It appears the Senate compromise on the stimulus package keeps transit and highway funding unchanged. Neither the high speed rail funding or competitive grants for any mode were reduced, as was originally thought to be the case. We’re suspending our appeal to make calls for now.

The Senate will move to vote on the overall stimulus package Monday or Tuesday. Then it moves to conference committee with the House to determine the balance between the two bills that will ultimately be voted on by both chambers and sent to the President’s desk.

Streetsblog Network members The Transport Politic and Greater Greater Washington both had good summaries of the Senate compromise. The Transport Politic breaks down the funding compared to the House version, and points out some crucial differences that will be hashed out in conference:

The final version of the compromise stimulus bill, which was formulated by a group of about 20 moderate senators, has been released by Senated Ben Nelson (D-NE). It does not decrease funds currently proposed to be allocated to high-speed rail or transit programs, but it does not meet the higher standards for funding for fixed guideways and New Starts that were provided in the amendment added to the House version of the bill by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

Greater Greater Washington reminds us that while transit wasn’t raided and redirected to highway funding, there’s still no assurance that the highway funds will be directed to where they can be the most effective. Repair and maintenance will create more jobs, spend money more quickly, and will not come with the price tag of future billions in maintenance like new highways do.

People on the left and right have plenty of other complaints about this stimulus. And it still gives the lion’s share of money to states under the old formulas which favor highways. There’s no “fix it first” requirement making sure state DOTs repair crumbling bridges before building greenfield freeways. Still, we were able to stop the Senate from making things a lot, lot worse. That’s a start.

Nothing is truly finished yet. Until the Senate passes their version, amendments could still spring up and funding levels could change. If it passes, the House and Senate will conference together next week to determine how to balance out portions of the bill that are not in line with each other.

For example, the House has $12 billion for transit, while the Senate has less than $9 billion. As TP points out, “the bills are different enough that we won’t know what the final bill will look like until the Senate/House conference committee releases its report after it meets.”

Stay tuned here on the blog or on Twitter to follow updates next week as the bill proceeds. Watch Monday for news about urging the conference to keep the House’s higher transit figures.