March 30, 2009
Link Between Transportation Planning and Housing Development a Priority for Administration
HUD AND DOT TO CREATE INTER-AGENCY WORKING GROUP
Last week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan testified before the House Appropriations Committee about the administration's top priorities for housing and transportation. They said that the administration will work to create "livable communities" by linking transportation planning with housing development. The agencies plan to create an inter-agency task force to coordinate transportation and housing investments. The partnership, they said, would work to provide more transportation alternatives and also create more affordable housing that is near, or accessible to, employment opportunities.
Energy and Climate Policy Discussion Moves Forward in Congress
NEW ENERGY LEGISLATION WOULD CREATE "GREEN BANK"; DEVELOP NATIONAL ENERGY GRID
Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence, announced during a recent hearing that climate change, energy independence and the transportation sector must all be considered together going forward. President Obama, as well as key lawmakers in Congress, have also expressed the sentiment that these issues are uniquely tied together. Although originally expected to be debated separately, preliminary discussions for a comprehensive energy and climate bill have begun. In the meantime, legislators have introduced several bills to increase renewable energy production and energy efficiency.
Earlier this month, Sens. Reid (D-NV) and Bingaman (D-NM) introduced two pieces of legislation dealing with the interconnectivity of the national energy grid. The bills would address how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission manages and plans for energy distribution and where transmission lines will be sited around the country to reach remotely located renewable energy generation sites.
In the House, legislation was introduced this week that would create an independent, tax-exempt, U.S.-owned "green bank." Introduced by Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR.), David Loebsack (D-IO) and Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), the legislation would fund renewable energy programs and energy efficiency technology. The "green bank" would start out with $10 billion funded through Treasury Department bonds.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has said he hopes to mark up a comprehensive energy and climate bill before the Memorial Day recess at the end of May.
Transportation Investment the Topic of Congressional Hearings
CONGRESS EXPLORES POTENTIAL FUNDING MECHANISMS
Last week, the House Budget Committee held a hearing on "Budgeting for Transportation: Financing Investments in Highways and Mass Transit." Witnesses included Debra L. Miller, Kansas Secretary of Transportation and Dr. Robert D. Atkinson, Chairman National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said during the hearing that he hoped all sides would be able to come together to invest more in transportation. Secretary Miller said that when it comes to funding highways and transit, investment cannot be discussed in an either/or fashion, as funding needs to be included for both. Dr. Atkinson said surface transportation efficiency is dependent on increased investment and all of the recommendations from the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission being taken together.
Transportation investment was again the topic this week when Secretary La Hood testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. When asked where the money to fund transportation projects would come from, LaHood said lawmakers will need to look to a variety of "out of the box" alternatives, such as partnering with the private sector and creating a national infrastructure bank. He also stated, "This administration, in these hard economic times, with so many people out of work, can ill afford to tell people that we are going to raise the gasoline tax."
This response from the administration was not well received from the Committee Chair, Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking member Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) told LaHood the administration must be prepared to consider a gas tax hike as a possible solution to the funding shortfalls facing the Highway Trust Fund, the federal account that finances the bulk of ground transportation work.
These hearings indicate that there is much to be worked out in terms of financing the upcoming transportation reauthorization later this year.
Congress Begins Work on FY 2010 Budget Resolutions
HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE APPROVES RESOLUTION, FLOOR DEBATE SCHEDULED THIS WEEK
After an all-day markup last Wednesday, the House Budget Committee voted 24-15 to approve the FY 2010 budget resolution. The non-binding resolution will set the parameters and a discretionary spending cap for the budget debate later this year. The resolution approved in the House sets the cap at $1.089 trillion, which is slightly less than the president's request of $1.096 trillion and does not include emergency spending, such as war funding.
Debate in the Senate Budget Committee began last Wednesday and ended Thursday evening with a 13-10 vote to approve the budget resolution. The Senate resolution is expected to set a cap of $1.08 trillion for discretionary spending. During the course of the discussion several proposals to cut funding and prevent deficit-growth were rejected.
Floor consideration in both chambers will take place this week.