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U.S. House Bill Shouldn’t ‘Emasculate’ Transit, LaHood Says

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives shouldn’t pass a transportation proposal that would end dedicated funding from gasoline-tax revenue for mass transit, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

The House “cannot pass a bill that emasculates transit,” LaHood said today in Washington at a conference of state transportation officials.

House Republican leaders said last week they would rewrite the transportation committee’s five-year, $260 billion spending bill in the face of opposition from within the party. They are considering shortening its time frame, cutting expenditures and dropping a proposal to stop dedicating a portion of gasoline taxes to mass-transit projects.

LaHood wouldn’t comment on the proposal to cut transportation funding. He urged Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 transportation budget, which proposes spending $476 billion during six years for surface transportation, and an immediate $50 billion this year.

“Give them a little direction,” LaHood urged members of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a Washington-based group that represents state departments of transportation. “Be bold.”

Authorization for the current surface transportation law expires March 31. The last multiyear spending bill ran through 2009 and has since operated on a series of short-term extensions.

‘Past as Prologue’

“I’m going to use past as prologue,” LaHood, a former Republican representative from Illinois, told reporters following his remarks. “I don’t see Congress passing a bill before this one runs out.”

The Senate is debating a two-year, $109 billion measure that has bogged down over some senators’ push to offer unrelated amendments. LaHood reiterated his support for the Senate bill, which was passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee last November by a unanimous vote.

LaHood said he’d prefer that Congress produce a bill of five to six years. He reserved judgment on the Senate’s two-year plan and on House Republican leaders’ idea to shorten their five-year measure.

“Let’s see what the Senate does,” LaHood said, adding that “a transportation bill will be the biggest jobs bill Congress could pass.”

The House bill is H.R. 7. The Senate bill is S. 1813.

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