Re-elect Dan Lipinski Congressman

Transit agencies winning House funding battle


By Greg Hinz
Crain's Chicago Business

It's been a couple of weeks since I updated you on that much-criticized House transportation funding bill, largely because Speaker John Boehner and the boys hadn't figured out their next step.

But it increasingly looks like Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and other area agencies that commuters depend on have won the battle, if not the war.

If you'll recall, the original version of the bill would have taken away the guaranteed 20 percent share of federal gasoline tax revenues that transit now gets for capital projects. Instead, agencies would've had to depend on much more unreliable general federal funds.

Then the Boehner camp sent out word that it was reconsidering — a clear blink.

Now comes word from a meeting of House Republicans earlier in the week that transit is back in the gas tax trust fund, along with roads.

"We are encouraged that the bipartisan provisions Congressman Dold has been promoting to strengthen the legislation and preserve mass transit funding will be included in the bill," said the office of North Shore Rep. Bob Dold, the first in a series of area Republicans from Metra-dependant districts to break with GOP leadership on the matter.

Mr. Boehner's move is "very welcome," said Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Chicago Democrat who's been grousing about the proposed transit money diversion since it first surfaced. "We should not let politics stand in the way of what is best for the country."

Also pleased is west suburban Republican Judy Biggert. But, her office adds, "The congresswoman isn't planning any victory laps until we see a bill that works for suburban commuters."

Ms. Biggert has good reason for concern: Mr. Boehner still doesn't have the votes to pass his bill. Conservatives object to spending tens of billions a year and raising gas taxes to make up a funding shortfall, and Democrats object to funding transportation with revenue from increased oil drilling.

That's led to talk that the House could pass a two-year funding bill now pending in the Senate if it can't approve its own five-year proposal.

Of course, the Senate bill has been held up for several weeks amid squabbling over proposed amendments on contraception funding, drilling and a whole bunch of other things. And lots of other nasty amendments are floating around in both chambers, with Amtrak funding in real doubt.

Current funding for national surface transportation projects is supposed to stop on March 31. If something doesn't happen by then, there's no money for roads or transit — at least, in theory.

Welcome to Washington, aka Gridlock City.

Latest word out of Washington is that Mr. Boehner has dropped plans to run a House bill and will put the Senate bill to a vote in his chamber. That assumes, however, that the Senate clears dozens of amendments and actually passes a bill.


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