Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, delivered the following statement as member of the Transportation Reauthorization Conference Committee.
While hailing the creation of the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program in the House bill, concerns were also raised over the $1 trillion backlog of investment needs for transportation infrastructure. Objecting to the elimination of the High Density State Apportionments in the House bill, which provides critical funding for communities all around the State of New York, Congressman Nadler said: “It should go without saying that in an environment where funding is limited, you simply cannot make such drastic changes in state allocations and cut funding so deeply in communities around the country. It is not fair, it is not sound economic policy, and it will jeopardize the prospect of the bill’s passage.”
As part of his opening statement, Congressman Nadler also discussed the bipartisan effort to include reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in the transportation conference report. With time and funding quickly running out for both the World Trade Center Health Program and the Victims Compensation Fund, a broad coalition of support in both the House (248 cosponsors) and Senate (65 cosponsors) are hoping there is an opportunity to extend these vital programs before the end of the year as part of the final conference report.
Below is the full opening statement from Rep. Nadler during the Transportation Reauthorization Conference Committee meeting:
“Thank you, Chairman Shuster, Senator Inhofe, and the rest of my House and Senate colleagues for successfully getting the Transportation Reauthorization bill to conference. I am sure that all of us are anxious to resolve the differences quickly, and enact a bill that we can all be proud to support.
"First and foremost, we must determine the overall funding levels, and as of right now, neither the House nor the Senate bill are adequate. According to DOT, there is about a $1 trillion backlog of investment needs on highways, bridges, transit and rail that keeps growing, and neither bill does much to address it.
“The House bill provides flat funding of just $325 billion over six years, and the Senate bill provides just a slight increase of a few billion per year. Neither comes close to the Administration’s GROW AMERICA Act, which proposed an additional $125 billion over the next six years for our highways, bridges and public transit system. Everyone wants a long-term bill for reliability and planning, but it might be worth asking ourselves if that is still the preferable option if we are locking in six years of flat or minimal funding. Perhaps a four or five year bill at higher funding levels is the better course of action.
“With regard to policy provisions, the results in both bills are mixed. I am very proud of the freight program we created in the House bill. The Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program would provide guaranteed dedicated funding for large scale multimodal projects that are critical for our regional and national economy.
“For over a decade, we have made various attempts to address major projects that are too big or complex for states to address on their own. The PNRS program that we created in SAFETEA-LU was meant to address such projects, but was divvied up into many, relatively small, earmarks. In MAP-21, the PNRS program was reauthorized, but subject to appropriations, and never received any funding. The program created in this bill refines and builds upon those efforts, and corrects decades of neglect by finally providing contract authority for multimodal projects.
“There are a number of transit issues that must be addressed in order for several conferees to support the final package. An amendment offered on the House floor eliminated the High Density State Apportionments under transit Section 5340 in order to provide additional funding for the Bus and Bus Facilities discretionary grant program.
“I would like to note for the record that although the amendment passed by voice vote, it is not without controversy. Section 5340 provides critical funding for communities all around the State of New York. The advocates of this amendment claim this program is an earmark for just a few big cities. That is simply not true. Because of this amendment, New York City would see a 14% cut in funding for bus services, but upstate New York authorities would lose almost 25% of their funding. It would devastate transit service in places like Aberdeen, MD, Nashua, NH, Allentown, PA and Syracuse, NY. A letter signed by almost the entire bipartisan delegations of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Delaware, Rhode Island, New York and Maryland urges conferees to recede to the Senate and reject these harmful cuts to Section 5340. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) also urges conferees to recede to the Senate and preserve Section 5340.
“It should go without saying that in an environment where funding is limited, you simply cannot make such drastic changes in state allocations and cut funding so deeply in communities around the country. It is not fair, it is not sound economic policy, and it will jeopardize the prospect of the bill’s passage.
“We should also ensure that all transit projects are treated equally by not codifying a reduction in the federal share for New Starts projects, or limiting the ability of local agencies to flex federal transportation dollars towards transit projects. And we must carefully manage policy provisions relating to motor carrier safety, and environmental streamlining, if we are to develop a conference report that all of us can support.
“Finally, there is a bipartisan effort underway, which I support, to include reauthorization of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Program in the final conference report. The World Trade Center Health Program has already expired on September 30, 2015, and seriously ill first responders and survivors are becoming desperate as the program struggles to continue offering services on limited leftover funding. The Victims’ Compensation Fund will also prepare to shut down in the coming months, and, without additional funding, will dramatically reduce benefits for responders and survivors. Congress must act to reauthorize these programs before the end of the year, and time is running out for these brave men and women. Attaching the 9/11 health reauthorization to this bill would ensure the programs do not close their doors on responders and survivors.
“Legislation to reauthorize these critical programs already has 248 cosponsors in the House, including 60 Republicans, and a filibuster-proof 65 cosponsors in the Senate. The men and women who use these programs live in all 50 states and in 433 of the 435 congressional districts. For the last 14 years, members of Congress have made commitments to “never forget September 11.” It is my sincere hope that this conference committee will honor that commitment and include reauthorization in its final report.