Tuesday, February 23, 2010

APTA lauds Senate move ending jobs bill debate

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The U.S. Senate Monday voted 62-30 to end debate on the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, ending the threat of a filibuster and clearing the way for potential passage—which could ensure additional public transit, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

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APTA said the Senate is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday. The HIRE Act extends the authorization of the federal surfacetransportation program through December 31, 2010.  If enacted, the Federal Transit Administration will be able to allocate the remaining 58% of formula funds that have already been appropriated for fiscal year 2010.

The HIRE Act also provides a transfer of $19.5 billion ofgeneral funds to the Highway Trust Fund, including $4.8 billion to the Mass Transit Account. This transfer is expected to ensure the solvency of the Mass Transit Account through the end of FY 2011.  The Senate Finance Committee based the transfer on restoring interest payments to the Highway Trust Fund.  The HIRE Act would also expand the Build America Bonds program, allowing states and local governments to borrow at lower costs to finance more infrastructure projects.

Should the Senate pass the measure, the House of Representatives could pass its version of the bill later in the  week before the current extension ofsurface transportation programs expires on February 28.  But, APTA notes, the House passed a larger jobs bill late last year that included an extension of The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: ALegacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) through FY10, which  ends Sept. 30. The House could decide whether to accept the Senate bill “as-is,” or attempt to amend it to address some of their differing priorities. APTA says it believes either action is preferable to no action at all. 

APTA noted that Monday’s vote included support from five Republican Senators: Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Susan Collins(R-Maine), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).  Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson was the only Democrat to vote against the cloture motion.