New House Rules Threaten TIGER and Livability Programs

TIGER, which funded projects like Atlanta's new streetcar, is in question after the passage of new House rules. Image: ##http://georgiatransitconnector.com/##Georgia Transit Connector##

TIGER, which funded projects like Atlanta's new streetcar, is in question after the passage of new House rules. Image: Georgia Transit Connector

The headlines have been apocalyptic.

As Streetsblog reported, the new House rules [PDF], passed along strict party lines with no defectors Wednesday, include a rule that allows lawmakers to spend out less than the full amount in the highway trust fund each year on transportation.

But there’s far more in the new rules that transportation advocates need to be aware of. For instance, it states that money could only be taken out of the highway trust fund for “those activities authorized for the highway or mass transit categories.”

At first blush, that sounds like a worthwhile firewall against raiding the trust fund for non-transportation purposes. But by specifying that the trust fund can only fund authorized programs, it excludes programs like TIGER and livability programs that were included in the 2008 stimulus bill but not in any authorization.

The House had allowed for $400 million for TIGER in the FY2011 budget (which never passed) and the Senate was looking to budget twice that. But if they can’t use highway trust fund money, those investments are in jeopardy – not to mention an additional $200 million for livability programs that advocates were hoping for.

“We had expected there may be attacks on these things in March” when budget talks begin again, Caron Whitaker of America Bikes told Streetsblog. “But they’re doing it all in one fell swoop.”

Another rule that has advocates worried is the expanded power for the chair of the Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), to set spending ceilings. In the past, the ceiling set by the chair would then be voted on by the full House. No more.

Andy Clarke, director of the League of American Bicyclists, wrote this week that when transportation funding is uncertain, bike and pedestrian projects most often end up not getting funded. He noted the dip in bike/ped funding that happens each time the transportation bill is about to expire. “Is this a direct attack on bike/ped funding?” he wrote. “No. Does it make such an attack more likely – absolutely.”