An amendment that would restore the popular Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements programs to the House GOP’s transportation bill has just been defeated in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by a vote of 29-27. Supporters of safer biking and walking sent thousands of messages to Congress supporting this amendment in the short time that advocates had to mobilize. In the end, however, the three Republicans who joined the Democrats in favor of the amendment were not enough to deliver a majority. Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin, the amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Tim Johnson of Illinois (a co-sponsor), and Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey were the three “yea” votes on the GOP side.
Every Democrat on the committee voted for the amendment, and at the markup session this morning Democrats Nick Rahall, Peter DeFazio, and Daniel Lipinski spoke in favor. DeFazio’s remarks were especially impassioned, telling his colleagues to “look those kids in the eye and tell them we can’t afford this program,” and characterizing the opposition as “just mean-spirited.”
Opponents of the amendment couched their arguments in terms of government reform. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) said that the bill should be “focused like a laser on the national highway system” and not dictate any other uses of transportation funds. Rep. Herrera Buetler (R-WA) said that the bill, as written, would put the power to implement bike/ped projects into the hands of authorities closer to the communities those projects would serve, saying it would “unleash” states’ ability to pursue their own priorities.
However, putting more money in the hands of the states actually keeps it further out of reach of cities and towns that want to build better streets for biking and walking. The League of American Bicyclists’ Andy Clarke, following the proceedings on Twitter, responded that Herrera Buetler and Shuster “are missing the point.” The federal government is not dictating anything, Clarke said: “States are the problem.”