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Transportation appropriations bill passes Senate with cuts in ISTEA.

In floor action last week, the Senate approved a $13.5 billion appropriations bill for the Department of Transportation (DOT) and related agencies. The Senate passed its version of H.R. 5518 on Wednesday, by a 74 to 22 vote.

Citing the far-reaching changes in the Federal Surface Transportation Program through the approval of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) last year, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, told his colleagues that this appropriation bill "keeps the faith with those changes by providing funds for flexible, multimodal, productive investment in critical national transportation infrastructure."

Unfortunately, keeping the "faith" of ISTEA did not include keeping the funding levels. The ISTEA had authorized $20.488 billion for fiscal year 1993. In both the House and Senate appropriations bills, transit programs were increased above fiscal year 1992 levels, but far below ISTEA's authorization of $5.2 billion.

The appropriations bill does, however, provide more money for railroads and new rail technology. The legislation gives more funding to Amtrak, and its highspeed corridor between Boston and New York, and would provide funds for a magnetic levitation vehicle demonstration project that was not included in the House legislation or in the Administration's budget.

The transportation appropriations bill would also authorize states to spend $18 billion for roads projects from the Highway Trust Fund and $1.9 billion from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. Members rejected, 39-57, an amendment by Senator Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) that would have provided more trust fund money to states that regularly contribute more to the fund than they receive. The Senate's appropriations bill would provide a $2.3 billion increase over fiscal year 1992 for highway programs, $55 million less than the House.

Eighteen billion was provided for the Airports Improvements Grants Program, the Federal-aid obligation ceiling was set at $18.2 billion - $1.3 billion more than the 1992 level. More than $7.2 billion is included in the legislation for operations, acquisitions, and research for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

In the original House legislation, H.R. 5518 contained a provision to shift $400 million from foreign aid savings to transportation programs, marking the first attempt at breaking down the "firewalls" erected between domestic spending, foreign aid, and defense. Sen. Lautenberg argued against this provision, pointing out that the House amendment would violate the 1990 budget law, and that the vote in the House (213-190) was not veto proof.

The House and Senate Conferees will now attempt to reconcile the differences in the two versions of the transportation appropriations bill in Conference Committee. For more information call the Center for Policy and Federal Relations.
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Title Annotation:Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act
Author:Ferrara, Anna Pulido
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 10, 1992
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