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Mr. SHELBY. Mr. President, I rise in support of legislation to reauthorize the surface transportation bill, and, in particular, the Federal Public Transportation Act of 2012, which is the transit amendment before us today.
While we are nearly 3 years beyond the September 2009 expiration date of SAFETEA, I am pleased we are finally moving one step closer to legislation that would allow infrastructure investments to move forward.
Chairman Johnson and I worked together to produce bipartisan legislation that eliminates outdated, inefficient programs and promotes greater efficiency and effectiveness in public transportation systems all across America. The Federal Public Transportation Act passed the Banking Committee with unanimous support. This legislation before us reflected in the amendment currently under consideration maintains funding for public transportation programs at $10.5 billion a year. Unlike previous reauthorization bills, the committee was unable to provide an increase in the baseline funding amount for public transportation. We were, however, able to provide a substantial increase to existing programs by eliminating the bus discretionary program which previously contained earmarks totaling $984 million.
In fact, we did not just eliminate one account that included earmarks, we eliminated all earmarks that were previously included in the reauthorization bill. These reforms have allowed us to provide public transportation systems with an increase in their guaranteed formula funding over the next 2 years. In addition to providing a stable source of funding, I believe we must institute a system that ensures greater accountability and encourages real investment in maintaining our aging public transportation infrastructure all over America.
This issue, also known as state of good repair, is extremely important for public transportation, and our amendment makes it an integral part of the transit programs. The new starts process has undergone significant reforms in order to streamline and to improve delivery of capital investment projects. It also includes a new pilot project with the sole purpose of expediting project approval and attracting private investment.
Setting aside, for a moment, the specific issues related to this amendment, I wish to speak briefly to what I believe is the most significant issue surrounding the reauthorization of SAFETEA--the solvency of the highway trust fund. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the mass transit account of the highway trust fund will end in 2013 with $2.8 billion--$6 billion short of what it will need to continue to meet its obligations resulting from this reauthorization bill before us. While the Senate is considering a 2-year authorization bill, others have advocated a longer term reauthorization. The length of the reauthorization is not as important, however, as the need to pay for all this spending before us.
I believe most Americans would agree that a reauthorization bill that leaves the program insolvent or near insolvency upon its expiration would be irresponsible. I hope this is not what we are doing with this bill. Infrastructure spending is essential to our long-term economic stability and growth in this country. Nevertheless, this country cannot continue to deficit spend its way out of its problems for infrastructure or anything else. Therefore, I think we must begin this discussion with the realization that difficult decisions are going to have to be made, and for our part I believe the Banking Committee has begun to make some of these difficult decisions by providing level funding and eliminating unnecessary earmarks from the program structures.
I look forward to continuing this debate and moving one step closer to completing a responsible and paid-for reauthorization bill.
I thank the Chair.
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