Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Senate "jobs" bill would extend transit programs

The political pundits and news media are writing at length about yesterday's cloture vote in the Senate concerning its version of a job-creating measure, currently called the HIRE Act

The $15 billion measure the Senate is expected to pass on February 24 primarily contains payroll and business tax breaks, intended to stimulate employment. Nothing there of direct connection to public transit or human services.

What is significant for transit interests in this bill is an extension of SAFETEA-LU, the current authorizing legislation, through December 31, 2010. According to reports, at least one of the votes for cloture, from Sen. George Voinovich [R-Ohio] was conditioned on a verbal commitment for the Senate to take up the overdue rewrite of SAFETEA-LU before the year is over.

In its current form, this Senate bill doesn't have any additional funding for transit, nor any of the other spending provisions found in the corresponding House legislation. The House bill, known as the "Jobs for Main Street Act," which was passed in December 2009, has provisions similar to those now arriving on the Senate floor, including the SAFETEA-LU extension, but also had approximately $150 billion in various spending programs, including $8.4 billion in supplemental transit grants, $1.2 billion in supplemental job training grants, and a continuation of the increased federal share of Medicaid costs that was a feature of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

No one's to be talking yet about what happens when House and Senate leaders seek to reconcile their two bills. First, it seems the Senate needs to pass something.

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