House members have proposed almost 600 amendments be added to the continuing resolution needed to keep the federal government operating for the remainder of fiscal 2011, including additional spending cuts that could jeopardize the Los Angeles County Metro extension and other transportation projects.
The House is expected to vote on the measure Thursday.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board of directors was notified by Metro project officials on Wednesday that one of the proposed amendments could rescind a $546 million federal loan awarded to the project last October under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which provides federal credit assistance to surface transportation projects.
Rick Jager, a spokesperson for the Metro, said Wednesday that the amendment “would strip” the TIFIA loan for the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Project, an 8.5-mile line. Los Angeles plans to repay the loan with sales tax revenues. Jager said the Metro is hoping the final version of the continuing resolution does not include the amendment.
Metro officials voiced concerns about the amendment the same day that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on the nation’s transportation needs that highlighted the success of the TIFIA program.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif, chair of the committee, said the TIFIA program “is a beautiful idea” because it allows transportation authorities access to up-front funding. Boxer touted the Metro project specifically, saying it is “a model for the nation.”
The TIFIA program received bipartisan accolades as senators discussed the most effective ways to fund transportation projects. “TIFIA has worked,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking minority member of the committee. He called for the program to be expanded.
Funds for transportation programs were extended late last year under a continuing resolution that is scheduled to expire on March 4. While committee members agreed that a short-term extension of federal funds is essential to keep transportation projects going, they also called for a multi-year surface transportation bill.
The hearing’s two witnesses — Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. and Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — each called for a long-term bill. Senators lauded them for putting aside the traditional labor-versus-business animosity and cooperating to promote infrastructure funding.
Trumka called for the Build America Bond program to be reauthorized and said other bond programs should be created or expanded to allow more private-sector investment for infrastructure projects.
Donohue said he was open to considering an increase to the federal gas tax — which has been 18.4 cents since 1993 — to provide more funding for surface transportation programs. He was less open to a tax on equity trades proposed by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., to finance transportation projects.
Donohue said the equity tax proposal would raise “a serious question” and suggested the senators “stick with what works” in terms of revenue sources.
If an extension is not passed by March 4, the federal government would be forced to shut down and federal funding for transportation projects would immediately be halted.
About $43 billion of highway projects and $12 billion transit projects under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU would immediately be suspended, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
SAFETEA-LU officially expired in September 2009 and has been reauthorized on a temporary basis five times.