Shelby says bill recognizes needs of both expanding and rural states.

In another step towards a new multi-year transportation bill, a Senate committee has approved legislation authorizing $44.3 billion over the 2005-2009 period for the federal mass transit program, the same amount the House and President Bush recommended over that span. But panel members indicated they will press to increase that funding when the measure comes to the Senate floor, maybe in April.

The bill, which the Senate Banking Committee cleared March 17 on a voice vote, will be linked to a $190-billion highway title that the Environment and Public Works Committee approved the previous day and then taken up on the Senate floor.

Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, the banking panel's senior Democrat, said he is disappointed in the bill's total for transit. Sarbanes recalled that when the Senate approved a multi-year transportation measure last year, it allotted 18.8% of its total guaranteed funding to transit, but the new bill's level equals about 18.2%. He says that holding transit to the 18.8% share would require adding $1.7 billion. He said he considered offering an amendment seeking that increase, but decided to hold off. But Sarbanes added, "I think it's important that transit receive its fair share....I'll continue to fight for that share as this bill moves through the process."

Other committee members agreed that the new measure's transit funding wasn't adequate. One leading Republican, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, said, "We need to do something about 'plussing-up' "--that is, increasing--the transit funding number.
Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said, "I would like the higher number. I think we would be better served" by a higher transit share.

Shelby also noted that in the measure, "We recognized the needs of growing states and rural states" through new formula-funding programs. The bill also makes bus rapid transit projects eligible for full-funding grant agreements with the Federal Transit Administration. Such agreements now are limited to fixed-guideway projects.

(Photo courtesy of Office of Sen. Richard Shelby)