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Transit funding bill could mean money for region; passage seems iffy, at best

Northwest Corridor, edit

The Northwest Corridor, along I-75 and I-575, was built with a federal loan now with an outstanding amount of $260 million. File/Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

The outlook is bright for transit funding in a spending bill that on Thursday cleared a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee. However, chances that it has a prayer of becoming law have crumbled amid the latest round of discord over the Democrats’ calls for investigations into President Trump.

Northwest Corridor, edit

The Northwest Corridor, along I-75 and I-575, was built with a federal loan now with an outstanding amount of $260 million. File/Credit: David Pendered

This pot of money is important to metro Atlanta’s efforts in the transit and transportation arenas. The state Department of Transportation is less reliant than in the past on federal money for certain projects, but transit agencies have fewer options – including the ATL, which is to manage the region’s federal transit funding.

South DeKalb County’s air quality and mobility were impacted by federal funds included in past legislation. MARTA announced a $3.6 million federal grant in April 2018 that enabled MARTA to replace diesel buses with CNG buses on routes in central and south DeKalb. GRTA received a $3.6 million federal grant that enabled an upgrade at GRTA’s park-and-ride lots and construction of a repair barn along I-20 in DeKalb, according to a statement released by MARTA.

The bickering on Thursday between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the nation’s largest transit organization.

The American Public Transportation Association’s president and CEO, Paul Skoutelas, had this to say in a statement about the subcommittee’s vote to pass the spending bill to the House Appropriations Committee:

  • “We congratulate House… Subcommittee Chair David Price and the entire Subcommittee for its work to provide essential funding to bring the nation’s bus and rail systems up to a state of good repair.
  • “It is also significant that the Subcommittee provided specific guidance to the agencies to reaffirm the importance of moving forward with critical public transportation and intercity rail projects to meet the growing transportation needs of Americans.”

That statement seems hopeful, coming on a day Pelosi said the president is “crying out” for impeachment and Trump responded, “she’s lost it,” according to a report by thehill.com.

A financial services firm that advises entities that work with transit, and with programs serving distressed communities, offered a “glass-half-empty” outlook on passage of the bill by the House Appropriations Transportation-HUD (THUD) Subcommittee.

The report by Novogradac observed:

  • “[I]t is highly unlikely Congress will pass a final FY 2019 THUD spending bill—not to mention the other 11 annual spending bills—unless and until Congress agrees to a new budget deal to raise the defense and nondefense spending caps for FY 2020 (and likely FY 2021). Congress has started negotiations on a budget deal, but it is uncertain when a deal might be struck.”

The bill approved by the subcommittee proposes to fund more than transit and transportation.

The $137.1 billion package would fund the departments of transportation; housing and urban development; and related agencies including the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness – perhaps best known for the Point in Time count of the homeless.

The package would provide the following funding, according to a statement from the House Committee on Appropriations:

  • “[T]he legislation provides $137.1 billion in budgetary resources, an increase of $6 billion above the 2019 enacted level and $17.3 billion above the President’s budget request. The bill includes $75.8 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $4.7 billion over the 2019 enacted level and $17.3 billion over the President’s 2020 budget request.”
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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