The U.S. Senate reached agreement late last week to hold a Halloween vote on a $127.7 billion "minibus" appropriations package that includes transportation spending. H.B. 2112.

Congress has yet to pass any of the dozen regular appropriations bill for the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1. A continuing resolution keeping government agencies operating at last year's funding levels, minus a small reduction, is in effect until Nov. 18.

Last week Senators voted 59-39 to table an amendment to the transportation appropriations measure offered by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, that would have prohibited federal funds from being used on "lower priority" transportation projects such as transportation museums and landscaping.

McCain's amendment targeted part of the Transportation Enhancements Program, which requires 10% of a state's federal Surface Transportation Program funding be used for non-highway projects such as welcome centers, bike paths, roadway landscaping, wildlife crossings, and historic preservation.

The amendment would have left the Transportation Enhancements Program in place, but reduced the type of projects that could be funded with it."These things are unnecessary in light of the fact that we have so much infrastructure in need of repair," he said.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-California, spoke against McCain's amendment and offered the successful motion to table it. Boxer said senators wanting to reform the Transportation Enhancements Program should wait until the chamber considers a multi-year surface transportation reauthorization bill. That legislation will get its first markup review next Wednesday, according to the Senate EPW Committee (see related story).

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the Transportation Enhancements program last month when the Senate considered an extension of previous transportation program authorizations through March 31. The bill passed without Coburn's amendment and was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The transportation spending bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee (S 1596, now part of HR 2112) would maintain highway and transit funding at current levels -- a stark contrast to a measure approved by the House transportation appropriations subcommittee that would reduce funding 34%. The full House Appropriations Committee has yet to consider that bill.


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