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Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, the District of Columbia and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2007

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. HOLT. Mr. Chairman, I rise today to express my disappointment that the Departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, District of Columbia, and Independent Agencies appropriations bill for fiscal year 2007 does not fully fund the Help America Vote Act, HAVA.

HAVA was passed in the wake of the 2000 election, and authorized almost $4 billion to improve the administration of elections in this country. The 2004 election was a strong indication that there is much work yet to be done in the area of election reform in this country. And yet here we are, fast approaching Federal elections which are to be the first ones that take place under virtually all of HAVA's requirements, and hundreds of millions of dollars in funds authorized under the bill remain unappropriated.

Although the appropriations bill before us includes almost $17 million in funding for the Election Assistance Commission, EAC, which is nearly $3 million more than was appropriated to the EAC for fiscal year 2006, it still provides no funding whatsoever to help States meet their voting system requirements--especially the disability and language access requirements--under title III of the act. HAVA authorized $3 billion in so-called ``requirements payments,'' and has to date appropriated only $2.328 billion. States across the Nation are struggling to meet HAVA's voting system requirements, and $672 million in authorized funds remain unappropriated. And not one dime of that amount has been requested in the President's fiscal year 2007 budget nor provided for in this appropriations measure.

HAVA also authorized $100 million to promote access to the polls for disabled voters, of which only $44 million has been appropriated to date, and $40 million for protection and advocacy systems, of which just under $17 million has been appropriated to date. I understand that the Labor and Health and Human Services appropriations bill to be reported out of committee today will include approximately $11 million in funding for the former accessibility grants, and approximately $5 million in additional funding for the latter protection and advocacy systems. However, these new appropriations still leave a total of approximately $63 million in authorized disability access payments unappropriated.

There are certainly many important demands upon us, but I ask you, Mr. Chairman, what is more important in a democracy than the fairness and integrity of the electoral system. I rise today to register my disappointment that the measure before us provides no funding to help States meet their title III requirements under HAVA, and to urge my colleagues to work with me when the Departments and Labor and Health and Humans Services appropriations bill comes to the floor next week to fully fund HAVA's disability access payments.


Mr. HOLT. Mr. Chairman, I rise today to support the amendment offered by Representative LATOURETTE to fully fund A mtrak.

In fiscal year 2006, the Bush administration attempted to only provide $360 million to maintain commuter and freight service operated by Amtrak. With a great deal of support from many parts of America, Amtrak funding was restored to $1.3 billion.

Once again we are considering a bill that underfunds Amtrak needs to maintain its current operations. Amtrak is funded at a mere 900 million to continue its operations and make capital improvements. This is 33 percent less than current funding levels for Amtrak. This is $698 million less than Amtrak requested to continue operations and invest in capital. The Oberstar/LaTourette amendment increases funding for Amtrak to $1.114 billion.

The Northeast Corridor relies heavily on Amtrak's infrastructure and skilled workers. New Jersey Transit estimates that over 77 percent of its daily passengers would be affected if--New Jersey Transit could no longer operate its trains over tracks owned by Amtrak.

Many of my colleagues contend that the Northeast Corridor is the only area that depends on Amtrak. This is simply not true. According to a report recently published by the Government Accountability Office, across the country 18 different commuter agencies depend on the infrastructure and services that Amtrak provides, including commuter rail agencies in Dallas and Seattle. There are currently seven new agencies being planned across the country as well. If we do not continue to fund Amtrak at the levels they need to function, a shutdown is imminent. This would be detrimental to commuter rail agencies that depend on Amtrak-owned tracks and infrastructure and skilled Amtrak employees.

The GAO confirms the effect a shutdown of Amtrak would cause: ``Given the dependence of more commuter rail agencies on Amtrak for services and infrastructure, an abrupt Amtrak cessation would likely result in major disruption or shutdowns of commuter rail service throughout the country.''

We have a responsibility to promote mass transit and provide adequate funding for States and local transit authorities to move passengers effectively. Rail transportation is essential for easing traffic congestion in our most densely populated areas, reducing wear and tear on roads, protecting our environment, and preserving open space across the country.

On May 1, Amtrak celebrated 35 years of service to our Nation. We celebrated Amtrak for its ability to integrate small communities with large cities by providing economic expansion, increased mobility, and environmentally sound transit.

That is why I support the amendment offered by Representative LATOURETTE that would increase Amtrak funding. Now is not the time for us to cut funding for mass transportation. I urge my colleagues to support Amtrak and vote for the Oberstar/LaTourette amendment.


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