Fending Off Potential Congressional Threats to Safe Routes Funding

Margo PedrosoThis week, both the House and Senate are considering their transportation appropriations (or funding) bills. Because most transportation funding is locked in through MAP-21, we don’t have to fight for funding every year like most programs. (See more on timing updates below)

However, sometimes we have to defend against amendments to limit or strip funding for our programs. This week is critical as both the House and Senate want to finish work on the transportation spending bills before taking the month of August to be at home in their districts. We are facing possible threats to the Transportation Alternatives program in both the House and the Senate.

As you know, funding for Safe Routes to School projects is now part of the Transportation Alternatives program that was created in last year’s MAP-21 transportation law. So any amendments to prevent states from using their Transportation Alternatives funds or to prevent them from using funding on bicycle or pedestrian projects would have the effect of cutting off funding for Safe Routes to School.

In the Senate, last week, Sen. Paul offered amendment 1742 to prohibit any spending on Transportation Alternatives, and to redirect that money to bridges. Sen. Lee of Utah has offered a similar amendment, #1798, that would strip all Transportation Alternatives funding. The Senate is still slowly working its way through the transportation bill, so those amendments have not yet come up. If either does come up for a vote, it will be sometime this week.

In the House, we face an uncertain threat. This afternoon and tonight – probably well into the wee hours of the morning – the House will be working through many amendments on its transportation spending bill. The House is considering the bill under an open rule, meaning that we don’t get to see the amendments before they are offered.

We are preparing for the possibility that a Representative may offer an amendment to limit spending on the Transportation Alternatives program. We will be watching the House action all night and will alert advocates if an amendment will be voted on that affects our programs. If there is a vote, it will likely be on Wednesday around mid-day. So Wednesday morning is likely to be a critical time for Safe Routes to School advocates to contact their Representatives.

* Update #1 - 10:30 p.m. Tuesday July 30 - the House has just adjourned for the night and will resume considering the transportation spending bill Wednesday mid-day. We will continue to monitor the situation and alert you if there is a vote.  Look for an action alert on Wednesday afternoon if there is an amendment; we will have a very short time to weigh in.

* Update #2 - 10:00 a.m. Wednesday July 31 - the House has set their schedule for the day.  It looks like they will not resume consideration of the transportation spending bill until around 5pm, with any votes taking place around 10pm. We will still have a short time to weigh in if there is an amendment on our issues; stay tuned.

* Update #3 - 1:30 p.m. Wednesday July 31 - House leadership has just announced that they will not resume consideration of the transportation spending bill this afternoon, as it seems at this point there are not enough votes to pass it. As Congress leaves on Friday for a district work period until after Labor Day, the bill is being pushed off until at least September.  The Senate still continues to slowly work through its transportation spending bill, so we should know by tomorrow if either the Paul or Lee amendments will come up for a vote. Stay tuned - we will send out an action alert only if the Senate has votes on an amendment of concern.

* Update #4 - 1:00 p.m. Thursday August 1 - The Senate, too, failed to secure enough votes to proceed with consideration of its transportation spending bill. So neither the Paul or Lee amendments were considered, as Senate leadership pulled the bill from consideration.  We may see these bills be considered again in September, but if more consensus is not reached, Congress will have to resort to doing one large "omnibus" spending bill for all government programs and agencies later this year.

What can you do?

  • If you haven’t already, contact your Senators to ask them to vote against the Paul and Lee amendments if they comes up.
  • Check your email this week and be prepared to call your Representative and/or Senators if you hear from us.
  • Pass the word to your friends and colleagues and ask them to call their Senators and/or Representative too.
  • Check back here for updates. We will update this blog with the outcome and next steps.