The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its $358 billion stimulus spending package yesterday, sending it to the full Senate without any amendments after less than three hours of committee discussion.
Members voted 21 to 9, with about two-thirds of the committee, including some Republicans, supporting the legislation. All of the amendments proposed during the panel's meeting were withdrawn quickly.
Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee was poised last night to approve a $272 billion package of stimulus tax provisions, including a one-year "patch" to the alternative minimum tax. The full House also had begun debate on its version of the stimulus legislation, which they plan to vote on today.
During the Appropriations Committee meeting, senators said that the new chairman, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, preferred they hold any amendments until the bill reaches the floor.
As a result, Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said she would offer an amendment during the vote in the full Senate that would increase stimulus outlays to state revolving funds to $12 billion for clean water and $4 billion for drinking water. The current bill would provide $6 billion total for the two SRFs.
A summary of the legislation approved by the committee states that the first half of the stimulus funding for transportation projects would be provided to state governments and must be obligated within 180 days. Funds that are not obligated would be redistributed by the Federal Highway Administration to other states.
The second half of the funding for transportation would be divided, with local governments receiving 80% and states getting 20%. They would have one year to spend those funds.
Altogether, states would get about 60% of the transportation money, and localities would get about 40%, the committee said.
Sen. Robert F. Bennett, R-Utah, said he supports stimulus funding for ready-to-go transportation projects because his home state has had to halt projects due to lack of funds.
Stimulus spending for all transportation sectors including rail, air, and maritime would total $46 billion, or about 13% of the committee's entire package.
Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee were voting on a stimulus tax package that was revised by committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., from the one he initially proposed last week.
He added a provision that would relax the minimum speed of high-speed rail projects that would qualify as exempt facilities and be financed with private-activity bonds. Current law states that exempt facility bonds may be issued for high-speed intercity rail projects, so long as those projects would involve trains that will travel at speeds of at least 150 miles per hour between stops.
Baucus' package would allow those bonds to be issued for projects with trains that attain a top speed of 150 miles per hour. The House version contains no provisions on high-speed rail projects.
Baucus also revised recovery zone bond provisions to ensure that each state would receive at least one percent of the bonds authorized under the program The remaining amount of bonds would be distributed to states based on unemployment figures.
The legislation would authorize $15 billion of tax credit and $10 billion of private activity bonds for economically distressed areas under this new program. In another change, Baucus removed the requirement that 40% of the $10 billion of qualified school construction tax credit bonds to be authorized under the legislation be reserved for large school districts.