Written by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership…
Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s Federal Update
Signs of hope in Senate bill; important work lies ahead for September
Since the July update, we had some more promising news on the transportation bill but a lot of work remains when Congress returns after Labor Day from its August recess.
In the Senate, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released a short outline of its transportation bill, which is called Moving Ahead for the 21st Century (MAP-21). The Senate approach is for a two-year transportation bill, at current funding levels. While the outline does not mention bicycling and walking, at a July 21 hearing on the outline, Chairman Boxer (D-CA) indicated that Safe Routes to School, “bike paths” and “recreational trails” are included in MAP-21. This is promising news—but we need to see the details before we know that the integrity of Safe Routes to School is maintained, that these projects won’t be competing against expensive highway projects and that the funding level is sufficient.
Because the federal gas tax is no longer enough to fund current transportation spending levels, the proposed Senate bill would require an infusion of approximately $12 billion. Right before Congress left for the August recess, news reports indicated that Sen. Baucus (D-MT) has identified a funding source to fill the $12 billion gap. If reports are accurate, and the funding source is acceptable to Republicans, this could help jumpstart consideration of the Senate transportation bill in September. Because Congress will be spending much of the fall working on major spending cuts related to the debt limit deal, a transportation bill must move in early fall or risk getting caught up in the larger debt debate.
In the House, there was no further movement on the transportation bill subsequent to the early July unveiling of the 20-page summary of the House draft. Chairman Mica (R-FL) spent much of his time in July wrangling with the Senate over extending the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Much like the surface transportation bill, the FAA has been extended repeatedly over several years. Because Congress could not come to agreement on another extension, the FAA shut down for nearly two weeks before an emergency extension was passed.
Rep. Mica has indicated he will play hardball with the surface transportation bill and extension as well. With the current surface transportation extension plus the bulk of the federal gas tax expiring on September 30, it does raise concerns about prospects for an extension. If Congress does not come to agreement either on a long-term transportation bill or another extension by September 30, it would shut down the flow of funds to state departments of transportation for a wide range of transportation programs, including Safe Routes to School.
Clearly, September will be a pivotal time for the transportation bill. We will continue to work hard to sustain and strengthen Safe Routes to School. Look for more information coming soon about the role you can play in ensuring Safe Routes to School’s continued success.