House Republican leaders are calling for a bill to be introduced next week that would temporarily extend transportation programs, John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said at a conference here on Tuesday.
Speaking at a summit sponsored by the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, Mica said the temporary transportation extension bill will not slow his efforts to pass a six-year transportation reauthorization bill, which he hopes to introduce in September.
He said he is currently vetting proposed legislative language that would revive the Build America Bond program, though at a lower subsidy rate than the previous 35% of interest cost. Mica said he has received “some very good input” for a BAB reincarnation, but that any proposals still need to be substantiated.
The current law funding federal transportation programs expires March 4.
Meanwhile, a day after President Obama announced plans to spend $53 billion over six years to finance the construction of a national high-speed rail and intercity passenger rail network, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee proposed cutting the current $8 billion of high-speed rail funding by $1 billion as part of a proposed package of spending cuts.
The administration has provided $8.5 billion for high-speed rail so far — $8 billion of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds and $2.5 billion of funds for fiscal 2010.
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the committee chairman, released a list of more than $74 billion in spending cuts to be included in a forthcoming continuing resolution. The federal government could be shut down if a new continuing resolution is not passed by March 4, when the existing CR expires.
Mica criticized the administration’s high-speed rail plan, saying the federal government has a track record of spending public money inefficiently for railroad projects. He said his reauthorization bill will likely include the administration’s proposed high-speed rail funds, “but the terms of how the money will be spent” will be determined by Congress.
Obama plans to propose $8 billion more for high-speed rail in his fiscal 2012 budget request, which is due to be released on Monday.
“I’m not afraid to spend that money if we protect the public’s interest,” Mica told the conference attendees.
Mica said high-speed rail successes will depend on public-private partnerships, and the parameters for P3s will be central to his transportation bill. Greater clarity on what public-private partnerships mean “will entice” businesses to jump into railroad investment, he said.
Other government tools to stimulate private investment include federal, full faith and credit backing for financing, Mica said. Federal aid for transportation should not be limited to “cash out” spending, he said.
Karen Hedlund, chief counsel of the Federal Railroad Administration, said during the conference that when Obama called for high-speed rail development in his State of the Union speech, it was the first time in two decades that a president mentioned transportation issues in this historic speech.
Mica plans to begin a dozen public hearings on Feb. 14 to gather ideas for the transportation reauthorization legislation. The first one will be held in Beckley, W.Va., in the home district of committee member Nick J. Rahall, a Democrat.
The Republican spending cuts would also slash $224 million from Amtrak, $700 million from the clean water state revolving fund program, and $250 million from the drinking water SRF program.