TRANSPORTATION:

House to vote on high-speed rail funding, national infrastructure bank

The House is set today to vote on a fiscal 2010 transportation spending bill that would provide $4 billion for high-speed rail and lay the groundwork for the creation of a national infrastructure bank.

H.R. 3288 would provide a total of $75.8 billion for the Transportation Department, an $8.6 billion jump from fiscal 2009.

The $4 billion for high-speed and intercity passenger rail is four times the total President Obama had sought for the upcoming fiscal year. The economic stimulus included $8 billion to jump-start a high-speed rail network, and the White House requested an additional $1 billion annually over the next five years.

A provision in the spending bill allows Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to transfer half of the high-speed rail program's $4 billion to a national infrastructure bank, if one is authorized by Congress before the end of fiscal 2010. Obama had requested $5 billion for 2010 to start the bank to expand existing transportation investments by providing seed money for capital projects.

Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, will offer an amendment that would scale back the high-speed rail cash to $1 billion and transfer the remaining $3 billion to the cash-strapped Highway Trust Fund. Latham offered a similar amendment during last week's markup that was defeated, 22-37.

The White House offered its support for the entire spending bill and applauded the passenger rail funding increase and the infrastructure bank provision.

In a Statement of Administrative Policy yesterday, the White House said that it would work with Congress to authorize the infrastructure bank "as soon as possible." LaHood has routinely cited the bank as a possible source of transportation funding that could be used to supplement falling revenues from federal fuel taxes, which currently pay for the bulk of the nation's road and rail work.

"Once established, the Bank will play a key role in supporting regionally and nationally significant, high-value, multi-modal projects selected on the basis of merit," the SAP said.

The spending bill also includes $10.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, slightly more than the president's request and $352 million above this year's budget. The FTA funding includes $8.3 billion for transit formula grants for ongoing capital and operating needs of transit systems, including funding for new buses, stations and intermodal facilities. That amount was equal to Obama's request and was $182.6 million above this year's funding level.

Amtrak funding dropped slightly to $1.5 billion, equal to Obama's request and $10 million below fiscal 2009 levels.

Republicans plan to offer up to four amendments to cut the total amount appropriated in the legislation -- which also includes the fiscal 2010 budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- ranging from a 5 percent reduction for all programs in the bill to a 25 percent cut for all funding not required by law.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member John Mica (R-Fla.) had hoped to offer an amendment to streamline the environmental review process for stimulus-funded transportation projects -- requiring National Environmental Policy Act reviews to be completed within 18 months -- but the effort did not clear the House Rules Committee.

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