House lawmakers today voted to add $3 billion in additional funding for transit projects in the economic stimulus package and placed more restrictions on how state and local transportation agencies must spend the federal cash.
Rep. Jerry Nadler's (D-N.Y.) amendment, passed by a voice vote, increases transit funding from $9 billion to $12 billion by adding $1.5 billion each to the transit capital improvement program and the new starts transit program.
The move restored the total transit funding to the level originally proposed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and ranking member John Mica (R-Fla.). The two men had expressed their frustration that their original $12 billion transit request had been reduced by the Appropriations Committee.
The House approved an amendment from Oberstar that strengthens a "use it or lose it" provision requiring state and government agencies to use half of the stimulus funding within a set amount of time. The amendment dropped the deadline to within 90 days of the bill's enactment, down from 180 days.
The provision had been weakened by the Appropriations Committee to give states more time in response to concerns that 90 days was an unrealistic deadline for the work to begin.
Speaking in support of his amendment, Oberstar told lawmakers that transportation officials had assured him that they would be able to hit the stricter deadline and that the transportation committee would ensure that they did. "Our committee is going to hold oversight hearings every 30 days," he said. "We're going to hold their feet to the fire and a blowtorch to their bottom side to make sure they deliver the jobs in the time frame they have said they can."
Oberstar added extra motivation to states to speed the cash out the door, saying that the stimulus was "a dress rehearsal" for the upcoming surface transportation authorization, a massive spending bill that covers the bulk of the nation's transportation funding that lawmakers will begin drafting later this year.
The third amendment added to the bill, proposed by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), clarified the legislation to ensure that the federal cash received from the rescue package for highway maintenance is not used to replace existing funds that had already been put in place for transportation projects.