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Statement of Administration Policy: S. 1072 - Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act

February 11, 2004



(Senator Inhofe (R) Oklahoma and 3 cosponsors)

The Administration supports enactment of a six-year highway, highway safety, and transit authorization bill and procedural efforts that would limit consideration of extraneous amendments and bring the bill to an up or down vote. Such a multi-year authorization would provide States and localities with predictable funding that enhances long-term transportation planning. The Administration's proposal, as modified by the President's FY 2005 Budget, would provide $256 billion over six years, an historically high level of investment for highways and transit. This proposal represents a $45 billion, or 21 percent, increase over the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), the six-year bill enacted in 1998.

The Administration believes that surface transportation reauthorization legislation should exhibit spending restraint and adhere to the following three principles: (1) transportation infrastructure spending should not rely on an increase in the gas tax or other Federal taxes; (2) transportation infrastructure spending should not be funded through bonding or other mechanisms that conceal the true cost to Federal taxpayers; and (3) highway spending should be financed from the Highway Trust Fund, not the General Fund of the Treasury. All spending for highways should be authorized and appropriated from the Trust Fund and derived from taxes imposed on highway use, thereby maintaining the link between Trust Fund revenues and highway spending.

However, the bill pending before the Senate authorizes: $262 billion on highways and highway safety, which is $50 billion above the President's request, and $56 billion on mass transit, which is $12 billion above the President's request. In total the Senate bill authorizes $318 billion in spending on highways, highway safety, and mass transit over the next six years, a full $62 billion above the President's request for the same period.

The Administration's proposed authorization level of $256 billion over six years is consistent with the three principles listed above. We support a responsible six-year bill and support many of the provisions contained in this legislation. However, we oppose S. 1072 and the pending substitute because their spending levels are too high and they violate these principles discussed above. Accordingly, if legislation that violates these principles (such as this legislation, which authorizes $318 billion) were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

In addition, the Administration opposes inclusion in a surface transportation bill of unrelated provisions regarding Amtrak. Any legislation regarding the future of Amtrak should be considered separately and should provide for meaningful reforms, such as those proposed by the Administration. If surface transportation legislation containing such provisions were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

The Administration wants to work closely with Congress to achieve an acceptable bill and recommends attention to the following areas.

Safety. The Administration appreciates the creation of a new Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) and a strong safety belt incentive program, but believes the bill should also require States that have not enacted primary safety belt laws or achieved safety belt use rates of 90 percent to spend no less than 10 percent of core highway safety construction HSIP funds on behavioral safety projects eligible under the Section 402 program. In addition, the Administration opposes limiting a State's flexibility to use HSIP funds by requiring mandatory set-asides for rail-highway grade crossings or safe routes to schools. The Administration believes that several programs of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should be consolidated and a portion of those funds should be used to reward States that aggressively reduce fatalities in the manner proposed by Section 2001(a) of the Administration's proposal. Also, language similar to that included in the Administration's proposal on providing for NHTSA-administered highway safety data grants should be added to help States improve their data to reasonable standards.

Environmental Provisions. The Administration opposes substantially broadening the list of eligible projects for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding because many of these new projects would have minimal air quality benefits. Eligibility for CMAQ funds should be limited to projects that achieve air quality benefits, particularly because the number of Clean Air Act nonattainment areas, which need this type of funding, will increase. The Administration believes that the bill should improve project delivery while protecting our environment. The bill should include a 180-day statute of limitations for legal challenges following final agency approval of highway and transit projects. This limit is necessary to reduce litigation uncertainty that can impede project development for years. The bill should also avoid adding new requirements to the transportation planning process, and integrate the transportation planning process with other environmental review processes to reduce redundancies.

With respect to project review under the National Environmental Policy Act, the bill should clarify the authority of State and local governments to be joint lead agencies, with the U.S. Department of Transportation, in preparing environmental documents. The Administration also notes that section 1511 is inconsistent with the President's proposal in SAFETEA, and encourages the Senate to adopt the President's proposal.

The Administration also believes that the bill should clarify standards pertaining to public park and recreation lands, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites -- commonly referred to as "Section 4(f)." A clarification of the Section 4(f) definition of "prudent" is needed to forestall confusing standards applied unevenly by the Federal Courts of Appeals. In addition, the bill should address the overlap between Section 4(f) and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to decrease project delays and uncertainty.

In addition, the Administration believes that the bill should not include a mandatory two percent set-aside from the Surface Transportation Program (STP) to support a highway stormwater discharge mitigation program. Stormwater discharge mitigation costs are already eligible under STP.

New Regulatory Mandates. The Administration strongly opposes the numerous mandated rulemakings for NHTSA and the FMCSA. These provisions predetermine timetables and outcomes without adequate grounding in science, engineering and proof of net safety benefits. By prescribing specific requirements and mandating priorities, these provisions will delay or interfere with ongoing safety initiatives and may have the unintended consequence of redirecting agency resources away from programs that will do more overall good for safety. The Administration also objects to the inclusion of: (1) costly and burdensome provisions of the bill requiring FMCSA to issue medical certificates to 6.5 million commercial drivers while limiting the performance of medical examinations to physicians alone; and (2) the bill's expansion of hours-of-service safety exemptions.

Financing and Freight Mobility. The Administration appreciates the bill's expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program by lowering the project threshold and broadening the list of eligible projects to include freight projects. However, the Administration opposes removing the TIFIA program requirement that a borrower have a dedicated source of revenue for repaying its TIFIA loan. Likewise, the Administration opposes allowing railroads to use Federal grants to pay the credit risk premium or repay Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loans.

The Administration supports amending the bill to give States the ability to manage congestion and raise additional revenue by allowing drivers of single occupant vehicles to use High Occupancy Vehicle lanes by paying tolls. The Administration also supports amending the bill to provide States flexibility to implement variable tolls on interstates for congestion management or air quality improvement purposes. In addition, the Administration supports amending the bill to incorporate the Administration's proposal to amend the Internal Revenue Code to permit the issuance by State and local governments of "private activity bonds" for highways and surface freight transfer facilities.

Public Transportation Programs. Aside from concerns about overall funding levels, the Administration is pleased that the bill includes provisions to improve human service transportation coordination and expand the "New Starts" program, but is disappointed by the omission of a performance incentive program to reward transit agencies based on increases in transit ridership.

Accountability and Oversight. The Administration is pleased that the bill includes stringent project management and financial plan requirements which were requested by the Administration. Improved accountability and focused oversight by the Federal Highway Administration will help maximize the effective use of available funds.

Funding Firewalls and Guarantees. The Administration supports a separate category or "firewalls" for determining the level of spending from the Highway Trust Fund, but only in the context of the Administration's proposal for annual statutory limits on discretionary spending. In addition, the Administration does not propose the creation of "firewalls" for general fund spending on such critical areas as defense and homeland security, and therefore opposes such treatment for general fund spending on mass transit programs.

Byrd Test Change. The Administration opposes weakening the Byrd Test to compare spending authority to current resources plus four years, rather than two years, of estimated future revenue. The Byrd Test was established at the creation of the Highway Trust Fund in 1956 to ensure that future revenues would be sufficient to cover outstanding spending authority. The Byrd Test has been successful in ensuring the Highway Trust Fund's solvency for nearly 50 years, and modification could allow levels of spending that cannot be sustained by estimated revenues to the Highway Trust Fund.

Park Roads. The Administration supports the funding level for park roads, but opposes the provisions of section 1806 of the bill that establish a park funding priority system that would reduce the Administration's ability to implement the President's Park Legacy Program. Allocation of park road funding should be consistent with the sound asset management approach on which the President's Park Legacy Program is based and which is currently used by the National Park Service, in a manner that will best address the needs of all parks, not just a few.

Cross-Border Transportation. The Administration opposes the bill's provisions defining foreign trucks and buses engaged in the cross-border transportation of cargo and passengers into the United States as "imports." Existing statutory provisions already address cross-border transportation safety, and the revised definition would significantly disrupt the almost $2 billion daily cross-border movement of goods.

MAGLEV. The Administration opposes the continued authorization of funding for Magnetic Levitation Transportation Technology Deployment (MAGLEV). The Administration's SAFETEA proposal did not seek funding for MAGLEV and believes funds can be better spent investing in the Nation's public transportation systems.

Budget Estimates and Enforcement

This bill would affect direct spending and receipts. It is critical to exercise responsible restraint over Federal spending in a manner that ensures deficit reduction and the Administration looks forward to working with Congress to control the cost of this bill. The Budget Enforcement Act's pay-as-you-go requirements and discretionary spending caps expired on September 30, 2002. The President's FY 2005 Budget includes a proposal to extend the discretionary caps through 2009, a pay-as-you-go requirement that would be limited to direct spending, and a new mechanism to control the expansion of long-term unfunded obligations. OMB's cost estimate of this bill currently is under development.

George W. Bush, Statement of Administration Policy: S. 1072 - Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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