The House Ways and Means committee has just passed a bill that would kick transit out of the highway trust fund, casting aside a 30-year history of providing a dedicated funding source for federal transit programs. Transit instead would be funded by a transfer from the general fund, which would have to be offset by cuts elsewhere to avoid raising the deficit. As US PIRG’s Dan Smith said yesterday, this is like saying that transit funding will come from the Tooth Fairy.
The attack on transit has drawn opposition from an unprecedentedly broad coalition of over 600 groups, including many that do not often find themselves on the same side of an issue. Opponents of the bill include noted transit advocates APTA and T4America, and traditionally pro-highway groups such as AASHTO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The conservative Club for Growth has even gone so far as to make the entire House transportation package a key vote, meaning members will be rewarded for opposing the bill. Rep. John Campbell has already said he has changed his position on the package, and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) laughed at the prospect of getting a positive rating from Club for Growth for “the first time in a while.”
An amendment proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, which would have removed the provision altering transit’s revenue source, was defeated along party lines during mark up this morning. However, two Republicans — Erik Paulsen of Minnesota and Vern Buchanan of Florida — broke ranks with their party and voted against the underlying bill. The bill passed anyway by a vote of 20-17.
Despite repeated attempts by Republicans to present the bill as placing transit funding on surer footing, the bill drew vocal opposition from Democrats such as ranking member Sander Levin, who said it “undermines the very structure of the Highway Trust Fund.” Blumenauer said the bill relied on “fantasy accounting” to justify a $40 billion transfer from the general fund to cover transit, and McDermott bemoaned the lack of long-term thinking behind the bill.
Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York even asked Chairman Dave Camp if there was a precedent for the Ways and Means committee to demand a complete restart of transportation authorization efforts. When informed that there was not, Rangel responded, “Well, you can be a leader, then.”
The letter from coalition members opposing the Ways and Means bill is after the jump.