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Transportation bill to conferees; faces veto.

Avoiding many of the more controversial issues, the House last week voted 343-83 to adopt a six-year surface transportation program--weeks after spending authority had expired.

In August, widespread anger over a proposed gas-tax increase forced the House leadership to remove the bill from the schedule and send it back to the House Public Works and Transportation Committee.

HR 2950, the $151 billion measure, still faces a lengthy negotiation process with senators who approved a smaller five-year package in June and an administration veto threat.

To ensure quick passage, House leaders strictly limited the number of amendments eligible for debate. Several key provisions, including an amendment to prohibit billboards within 2,500 feet of national parks and monuments, were barred from consideration. Some House members had hoped to offer amendments deleting certain demonstration projects from the bill.

HR 2950 would extend half of the gas tax adopted in the 1990 budget agreement beyond its scheduled 1994 sunset date, a compromise adopted after a proposed five-cent gas-tax increase was dropped.

Although the administration had tacitly concurred with the extension of the current tax, in recent weeks Department of Transporation Secretary Samuel Skinner has critized the proposal because it would be used to fund "excessive" spending on the so-called demonstration projects.

In addition to the demonstration projects, the administration opposes the level of spending in the bill for public transporation programs and the urban mobility program, preferring more money for the "National Highway System."

The administration also has been seeking a reduced federal match and higher state and local costs for federal transportation aid, a proposal rejected by both the House and Senate.

One controversial amendment allowed for debate would have set new targets for participation in the disadvantaged minority business enterprise program. Sponsored by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the amendment would set different goals for businesseses owned by minorities and women that participate in the federal highway program. The amendment was defeated 295 to 133.

House and Senate conferees now have the task of resolving differences in the two bills, neither of which the administration approves. The bills differ in many respects, including the House extension of the 2.5 cent tax, the additional year authorization contained in the House bill, a stronger emphasis on the National Highway System in the House and direct funding to urban areas above 250,000 in population contained in the Senate.
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Author:Wollack, Leslie
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 28, 1991
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