NYC Transit Could Benefit From House Highway Bill Revision

U.S. House Republican leaders are giving up an effort to end guaranteed federal funding for mass transit, bowing to party members in the Northeast whose districts depend on the money.

Opposition from about a dozen Republicans representing urban and suburban districts, including Representative Peter King of New York, persuaded House Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team to drop a proposal to end the designated use of 2.86 cents of the 18.4 cent gasoline tax for mass transit and other air-quality and highway-congestion projects.

The language won’t be included in a revamped version of a five-year, $260 billion bill authorizing funding for the nation’s roads, trains and bridges, Representatives Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania and Fred Upton of Michigan said today in Washington.

“Suburban Republicans, urban Republicans, that’s very important to them,” Shuster told reporters.

King, whose Long Island district includes a large population of commuters, and other Republicans said the change would have crippled transit including the New York City subway system and the Long Island Railroad.

Mass Transit Funds

King said today that he would oppose the transportation bill unless the mass transit funding change was removed because “that’s the only program where New York, and the New York region, gets back more than it puts in” through gas taxes.

“Five million people, every day, use mass transit in New York,” King said in an interview. “When you’re from New York, you can never let your guard down. That’s a rule that applies in several cases, but certainly when it comes to mass transit funding.”

Republican leaders had proposed replacing the automatic funding mechanism for mass transit with $40 billion in general funds. Shuster said the decision to drop that proposal is the most significant change Republican leaders are making to the transportation bill.

House Republican leaders abandoned plans to bring an earlier version of the highway bill to the floor last month after members objected for reasons including its price tag.

Almost all House minority Democrats oppose the measure, which would reauthorize the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax and set maximum spending levels for roads, bridges and mass transit for five years. The current highway law, which expires March 31, is the eighth temporary extension since a $244 billion, four-year plan ended in 2009.

Two-Year Version

Boehner of Ohio told fellow House Republicans at a closed-door meeting today that if they can’t agree on their five-year highway bill they may have to accept the Senate’s two-year version, Shuster, Upton and Steven LaTourette of Ohio told reporters.

The Senate is working on its $109.8 billion highway bill. Many House Republicans say that bill is inadequate and doesn’t include changes they are seeking.

“We’re back to the five-year bill,” said Shuster, who House leaders have tapped to help gain votes for the measure. “There’s still some concerns out there, but we’re going to try to work through it and build the vote to 218,” the number of votes needed for House passage.

House Republicans’ proposal would eliminate a program to fund bicycle trails and other transportation-related improvements that anti-tax lawmakers say are wasteful. It would expand offshore drilling to provide royalties for highway spending and raise funds by requiring federal workers to contribute more to their pensions.

Shuster said the House may consider a 30 to 45-day highway funding extension if lawmakers need time to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills.

Representative Allen West, a Florida Republican, said a five-year bill was far preferable to a shorter-term measure.

“We want to be able to provide certainty for people,” West said. “I talk to folks down in our district, in the construction industry, and they want that certainty.”

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