Federal Transportation Funding Issues

John Okamoto
NW Region Administrator
Washington DOT

The nation’s transportation system is, in fact, several separate systems that must be managed in an integrated manner. The investment in the system must be protected. We need to keep up with the ongoing need to preserve what we have. The transportation system is essential for our economy and quality of life. To maintain our competitive trade advantage requires a strong transportation system to support our economy both internationally and from farm to market locally. The system also allows us to travel for leisure or recreation.

The American Public Works Association Transportation Committee’s 1999-2000 work plan includes a focus to monitor and advocate public policies affecting local transportation issues. The Transportation Committee has monitored the transportation interests of the Association’s members and advocated our interests in federal funding decisions.

This past year, the Transportation Committee worked in support of ensuring that Aviation Trust Fund dollars would be invested in local airport needs. The $40 billion, three-year authorization requires Congress each year to spend all of the receipts and interest collected into the Aviation Trust Fund, creating a guarantee that $33 billion will be invested essentially in capital improvements over that period. The remaining $7 billion, not guaranteed and subject to appropriations, would come from the general fund to cover a portion of FAA operations.

For the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the agreement provides slightly more than $3 billion annually, up from the current level of $1.95 billion, and it increases by $1.50 the current $3.00 cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) local airports can charge for infrastructure improvements.

In April, along with the Government Affairs Committee, the Transportation Committee and APWA staff took an active role advocating against a repeal of 4.3 cents of the federal motor fuels tax. The repeal proposal, initiated due to high motor fuel prices, would cost state and local transportation programs an estimated $7 billion annually. The repeal proposal was defeated, in part due to the advocacy of APWA.

The Transportation Committee is also looking ahead to the next reauthorization of Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). Passed in 1998, Congress adopted TEA-21, which established a direct link between the funds deposited in the Highway Trust Fund and the funding returned to states and local governments for highways and transit. Under TEA-21, revenue from the motor fuel tax is used for infrastructure and transportation programs. TEA-21 is a six-year act and will expire the end of federal fiscal year 2003.

The APWA Board of Directors adopted a position statement in 1997 that articulated the interests of the Association’s members. The position statement addressed many issues such as the appropriate federal role in transportation, expanding local decision-making, recommended funding and program structures, allowing flexibility, promoting innovative financing, limiting federal mandates, involving stakeholders in the development of performance measures, enhanced technology, limiting demonstration projects, and federal focus on the National Highway System.

The 1997 position statement provided guidance to the Association’s advocacy efforts, and led to changes in TEA-21.

While we are still three years from the expiration of TEA-21, it is not too early to begin to prepare our position for the upcoming reauthorization debate. The Transportation Committee will be seeking input from the Association’s members. The Committee will work closely with the Urban Forum, the Rural Communities/Small City Task Force, the House of Delegates and Government Affairs Committee, as well as seek input directly from the membership to develop an Association position and advocacy strategy. We would encourage chapters to begin discussions with their local members on this topic.

Member organizations should begin to assess what has gone well with TEA-21, and what improvements we should seek in the next reauthorization. Are the existing funding levels sufficient or should we advocate a revenue increase? Are the firewall protections and surplus distributions through the normal formula adequate? Do we need to seek again, direct suballocations to local governments? What position should the Association take on preservation needs of the existing system? Should the reauthorization continue to have special programs, such as for trade corridors? Does the federal government need to take a stronger role in encouraging cooperation between states’ department of transportation and local agencies? Should APWA support the continuation of the bridge repair and CMAQ programs? Has sufficient environmental streamlining authorized under TEA-21 been accomplished? Is disaster relief funding adequate? To what extent should the Association push to restore funding for research, development and technical assistance?

These are but a few of the key questions we will be asking as we develop the Association’s position for the upcoming reauthorization discussions. We must begin now to have an effective advocacy position for the reauthorization.

Those interested in providing input can contact Jim Fahey, Director of Government Relations, at jfahey@apwa.net or 202-408-9541.