Legislation recently introduced by the U.S. House of Representatives is “a Draconian and unacceptable blow to transit funding in New York City and the nation,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Brooklyn) told the City Council Transportation Committee last week.
Although the measure has since been withdrawn in the House and the U.S. Senate has passed its own version of the bill minus some of the most objectionable elements, the legislation still must go before the Republican-majority House.
Congressional sources said the House would probably put forth a temporary stop-gap bill to beat the March 31 deadline, after which all funding would stop with unwanted results. The Republican-majority House would then deliberate on a full version of the transportation bill.
Nadler appeared last week before the Transportation Committee at the invitation of its chairman, Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx).
“The MTA receives more than a billion dollars a year from the federal Highway Fund as a result of passage of legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1982. But the proposed new legislation would end the guaranteed infusion of $1 million for transportation in New York City,” Nadler said.
Congressional supporters of the previously annual infusion of money nationwide would be forced to compete in Congress each year for transit money with dozens of other agencies.
“If the last year has taught us anything, it is that the politics of annual appropriations can lead to dysfunction and inaction,” Nadler said. “Such a reality would make it difficult, if not impossible, for transit agencies to develop reliable, long-term capital plans and it would leave the future of the program in doubt.”
Nadler said the Republican offering was unusual in a variety of ways.
“H.R. 7 was unlike any other reauthorization,” he said. “On a purely partisan basis, Democratic staff and members were told what was in the bill only 24 hours before it was introduced. It was designed so that no Democrats could support the bill.
Ray LaHood, the U.S. Transportation Secretary and a former Republican congressman from Illinois, called it “the worst transportation bill I have ever seen.”
“There is no reason to make such a drastic change in how we finance public transportation and no reason for this change has been given,” Nadler said.
In answer to questions from Council members, Nadler said the federal Highway Fund has been diminishing due to the growing fuel efficiency of motor vehicles, which means less gasoline taxes generating money for transit.
With many of the most egregious aspects of the House bill removed in the Senate version of the bill, things look better but many others remain, Nadler said.
“There are many Republicans who are clearly against transit and they may try this again,” Nadler warned.
He added, “I now call on the Republicans to reach across the aisle, as we have always done in the Transportation Committee and develop a bipartisan bill that we can all support to meet our nation’s infrastructure needs and create jobs.”
Vacca said “without those dollars our transit system — the lifeblood of our economy — would suffer as never before. Fares are already too high for working-class New Yorkers — imagine what would happen to the fare if the MTA had to cover more than a billion dollars in lost revenue every year. It’s inconceivable.”