Mar 13 2003

HEARING ON FTA’S FY 2004 BUDGET REQUEST
STATEMENT OF SEN. RICHARD SHELBY

“The Committee will come to order. I am very pleased this morning to welcome Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer Dorn from the Department of Transportation.”

“I asked Administrator Dorn to come before the Committee today to share the details of the Administration’s FY 2004 proposed budget for FTA and I appreciate her willingness to respond to the Committee’s request for her time.”

“I’ll begin by saying that this is most likely the first time since 1998 that FTA’s budget has garnered so much attention and scrutiny. Because we are in a reauthorization year, it is inevitable that the FY 2004 budget would provide a glimpse into what the Administration will propose for TEA-21's successor bill. Incidentally, the reauthorization proposal is one that I hope will be delivered in an expeditious fashion. I need not tell the Administrator that we are anxiously awaiting the details of the President’s proposal. It is frankly a bit troubling that we have yet to see it. When it is released, I will be calling a hearing of the full Committee to review it. That being said, let’s move on to the FY 2004 budget.”

“The President is proposing an FY 2004 budget level of $7.226 billion – the same level as FY 2003. Several substantive legislative proposals accompany the budget. The Administration is proposing distributing all grant funds by formula, with the exception of new starts. I have observed that transit properties have the tendency to make decisions based on the category of federal assistance available, which may not lead to the best transit choice to meet that community’s need. It’s clear to me that what works for Birmingham doesn’t necessarily work for a place like Detroit.”

“I am most concerned, however, about the idea of eliminating the bus program. To many communities this is the life blood of its transit system. It is an invaluable resource to the great majority of communities who rely on buses as the sole mode of public transportation. Eliminating the program would be detrimental to mid-sized communities who need lump sums to make bus purchases and build bus facilities. Regular formula funds – even with the increase of 30% that would come from elimination of the bus program – would not provide enough resources in a timely fashion to make cost-effective bus purchasing and construction decisions. It may take several years worth of formula funds for communities to even be able to do a modest bus fleet replacement. In my view, eliminating the bus and bus facilities program is not a feasible option that makes sense.”

“Along the same lines, I’m interested to hear from the Administrator about the rationale for expanding resources for new starts. I do think there is great value in widening the criteria for new starts eligibility to include new innovative technologies like bus rapid transit. However, I worry that FTA is too quick to commit themselves to full funding grant agreements which sap the agency’s funds going forward. The result has been that we are entering a reauthorization cycle with $3.9 billion in new starts funds having already been committed to existing and proposed projects. Cynics in the audience may believe that taking bus money to add to new starts was necessary to have funds available for additional full funding grant agreements.”

“I am pleased that rural transit is finally garnering the attention it deserves. This is an area too long neglected. I have seen the value of committing resources to advance rural connectivity in communities all over the country. Currently, 40% of rural counties offer no transit service at all. Increasing funds for the rural program will go a long way toward meeting the growing need.”

“The Administration is also proposing eliminating rail modernization as a program with separate requirements from the urbanized area formula program. Merging these two accounts will NOT in any way affect the amount of money that any one community receives, instead it will eliminate the requirement that only rail modernization funds be spent on rail modernization projects. While I could debate the wisdom of how the rail modernization program is allocated under TEA-21, I think this is an intriguing proposal and one that I hope to hear about in greater detail from the Administrator this morning. I think there are a few clever ideas in the President’s proposal for transit, although on balance, I think it is a current services budget and I DO hope it will evolve significantly in some areas.”

“I plan to play an active role both as Chairman of this Committee and as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation Appropriations to make sure that transit needs are addressed in the FY 2004 budget, as well as in the reauthorization process.”

“I am looking forward to an active year on transit and have already begun to lay out the groundwork for an aggressive series of hearings at the full Committee on reauthorization issues.”

“Along those lines, I delivered a letter to the Senate Budget Committee Chairman late last week – signed by 64 of my colleagues – that expressed a desire for transit funding increases in the Budget Committee’s bill being marked up this week. I understand that several members of this Committee may be at that markup this morning.”

“Madam Administrator, we are pleased to have you with us this morning. I look forward to hearing your remarks.”