Congressional White Paper on new Transportation Act Released
On Thursday, June 18, Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Ranking Member John Mica (R-FL) released a white paper outlining the provisions in the “Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2009”. The actual bill with legislative language is expected to be introduced early next week.
Tentative Timetable Announced
In a press conference to introduce the white paper, Chairman Oberstar said he anticipates having the Highways and Transit Subcommittee mark-up the new bill on Wednesday, June 24, and report it to the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. When the full Committee will take action and report the bill to the floor of the House of Representatives is uncertain. Final action by the full Committee is contingent on the House Ways and Means Committee’s approval of a way to finance the new bill, which almost certainly has to include an increase in the federal fuel tax. The Obama Administration strongly opposes any increase in the fuel tax at this time and until the economic recovery is well underway. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, has asked Congress to wait at least 18 months before taking action on the new bill.
Also, the two Senate Committees with jurisdiction over the new bill, the Senate Commerce Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee, indicate that they do not intend to complete work on their parts of the bill by the expiration date for SAFETEA-LU of September 30, 2009. Thus, the odds for passing the new bill this year are not very great.
White Paper Outlines Significant Changes in Commercial Vehicle Safety Programs
Rather than attempt an explanation or interpretation of the new safety proposals at this point, we felt it best to share the actual document with you and urge that you take the time to review it carefully and share your thoughts about it with us. It appears that they have favorably considered some of our issues. This is only the first step in what will be a long process and we will have additional opportunities for more bites at the apple.
We have been told by Committee staff that when the text of the bill becomes available next week, it will contain additional provisions relating to us that are not covered in the white paper. One such issue is Maintenance of Effort (MOE). We are advised that it will be a standard formula for all of the safety grant programs including MCSAP and that it will be based on a 3 year average prior to the date of enactment of the bill. The MOE will then be in effect for the life of the bill.
We have also been advised that there are still some issues under consideration by the Committee such as safety exemptions and 3rd party data providers. Again, there will be more bites at the apple.
Finally, while the white paper does not contain specific funding amounts, we are told that the amount for FMCSA and its programs will be doubled. That includes MCSAP and the other grant programs. At the present time, the funding formula is still 80/20; however, some modification of this formula may still be under consideration.
HAZMAT Reauthorization Proposals Also Released
Attached are the provisions for reauthorizing the hazardous materials safety programs. HAZMAT reauthorization will be part of the overall new Transportation bill and subject to the same timetable for enactment. It should be noted that a key provision establishes a program for training hazardous materials inspectors and investigators. The specific legislation is expected to name CVSA as a partner in this training effort.