AP: Will Senate Republicans Send Back Their Own States’ TIGER Money?

TIGER grants, announced last year, hang in the balance as the Senate debates the package of House-passed spending cuts. Congress is about to vote on another extension of the current budget, cutting another $2 billion per week. (Up until now, those “cuts” have mostly been budget items from 2010 that the Democrats weren’t going to ask for in 2011.) But will Democrats agree to cut innovative transportation projects that rose to the top of a competitive national process? And more to the point — will Republicans?

New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte.

The Associated Press reported that a majority of Republican Senators oppose rescissions of TIGER money that was granted to their states.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., wants Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to speed up the review process so her state can get its $20 million, one-fifth the cost of replacing a bridge from Portsmouth, N.H., to Kittery, Maine.

“This is the No. 1 transportation priority for New Hampshire and Maine as well,” Ayotte said in an interview. “Because this bridge is in such disrepair, it’s a huge public safety issue.”

At a hearing this week, LaHood told Ayotte he would expedite the review. But he also tried to make clear to senators that going along with the House measure would mean no money for most projects. “We just want to make sure everybody understands that,” LaHood said.

At $47.7 million, the most expensive grant in jeopardy would pay for streetcar line in Atlanta. The railroad project in Fort Worth comes in at No. 2, at $34 million. The streetcar line in Salt Lake City is No. 4, with a $26 million grant. Each state is represented by two GOP senators.

Senate Republicans voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday for the House spending bill, but in reality, they knew it would not pass the Democratic-majority chamber.

The AP goes on to say that Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is defending the Fort Worth rail project, which includes construction of underpasses for pedestrians and bikers, as “an important issue for public safety.” Republican John Hoeven, a new senator from North Dakota, is willing to fight for the $14.1 million slated to go to the Minot Bypass project, which would provide a railroad grade separation. ”I think that’s an example of something that should be funded and I think in the final budget deal, it will be,” Sen. Hoeven said. And Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a champion at spending cuts, wants to keep the TIGER money for the Salt Lake City streetcar system, saying, ”This is a rail system that really is needed and has been promised, and I think it ought to be granted.”

Hatch’s Senate colleague from Utah, however, is one Republican who wants to see TIGER grants cut, according to the AP, which quotes him as saying, “With a $1.65 trillion deficit and $14 trillion national debt, there is no question we need to look at serious spending reductions. A logical place to start would be money that has been allocated but not spent.”

The Senate’s hard-fought two-week extension for passing a budget for the rest of FY2011 expires this Friday. The new three-week extension really only gives the Senate two more weeks, since both houses are on recess next week.