Faith Based Organizing Works
With only a few days’ notice, twenty-one leaders and organizers, from TEN/Gamaliel affiliates in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and Wisconsin, joined TEN Executive Director Laura Barrett and Federal Policy Coordinator Cynthia Jarrold in Washington, D.C. to be part of a lightning team that visited every House office and every Senate Banking Committee office—that is more than 472 offices—with the message that: 1) flexible transit operating assistance is necessary to keep our buses running and our people working; and 2) incorporating the “Missouri Model” into workforce development legislation puts people to work and ensures that low income people, people of color, and women receive the necessary training to enter career path jobs in the construction industry.
The lightning team came to DC in advance of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee mark-up of the Surface Transportation Authorization bill that we have been working on for the last 3 years. They made sure that the issues we have been working on were fresh on the minds of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Banking Committee members when they walked into the committee mark-ups on Thursday, February 2. Below is an update on what happened with our issues in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee mark-up and the Senate Banking Committee mark-up.
Flexible Transit Operating Assistance for Buses
This has been our signature issue over the last 6 months. After 15 hours of debate over 117 amendments, Congressman Russ Carnahan offered an amendment to the House surface transportation bill that would give all systems in our country the flexibility to shift the money they receive from the federal government for buses to operating costs. (It makes no sense to buy buses when there is no one to drive them.)
Because the TEN and Gamaliel networks, the lightning team, and our national partners—Amalgamated Transit Union, Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, Transit Workers Union, Community Transportation Assistance of America, Transportation for America, Policy Link, and Transit Riders for Public Transit—had organized well around this issue, the Majority Party in the House was fearful that we would win this amendment. As a result, they made sure that all of their members were in the room when it came time for the vote. The same was true for the Democrats. The amendment failed 26-28 with 2 Republicans breaking ranks to vote with the Democrats. This is a victory for us for two reasons: 1) We have gained sufficient support outside the committee to actually bring an amendment to the full House for a vote; and 2) The committee chairman, John Mica-FL, was concerned enough about more Republicans breaking ranks to vote with Democrats that he added a modified version of transit operating assistance to his manager’s amendment which did pass and become part of the surface transportation bill.
The Senate Banking Committee also included a modified version of flexible operating assistance in their original bill which will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote next week.
The “Missouri Model” for Workforce Development
TEN organized a coalition of national partners who have been working on this issue for the last 2 years at the federal level. This is also a critical issue for many of the Gamaliel affiliates. Congressman Elijah Cummings (MD) offered a local hire amendment during the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee mark-up. After intense debate, the Cummings amendment failed by voice vote. Shortly after that Congresswoman Laura Richardson (CA) offered a second, modified local hire amendment. It, too, failed by voice vote. (FYI—Congressman Hanna referred to local hire as “dumbing down hiring.”)
Later in the evening Congressman Cohen (TN) offered a construction careers demo project amendment which incorporated a number of the pieces of the “Missouri Model”—quality pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training for low income people, people of color, and women. He withdrew the amendment when Chairman Mica offered to talk further with him about adding pieces to the transportation bill when it goes to House floor. We will be monitoring these conversations to ensure that Mr. Mica does follow through with his commitment to Congressman Cohen.
The construction careers demo project language was not included in the Senate Banking Committee bill.
Privatization of Transit Service
The House Transportation and Infrastructure bill contains language that would provide transit systems with 90% federal match for transit capital projects instead of 80% federal match if they choose to privatize at least 20% of their transit service. This is an alarming precedent and puts public transit on a path back to the late 1960s when most transit systems were owned and operated by private companies and were going broke, resulting in decreased service and increased fares.
House Ways and Means Committee Removes Public Transit from the Trust Fund
On Friday, February 3, the House Ways and Means Committee marked up the bill that establishes how the surface transportation program will be funded for the next 5 years. The committee’s plan for financing the transportation program focuses on drilling. More alarming, however, it takes the 2.86 cents of the 18.4 cent motor fuel tax that is currently dedicated for public transit in the Highway Trust Fund and redirects it to highways, leaving public transit with no guaranteed and secure funding.
This bill passed out of committee on a party line vote (with the exception of 2 Republicans who voted against it) of 20-17. It will move to the House floor along with the House Transportation and Infrastructure surface transportation bill next week.
The Senate Finance Committee plans to mark-up its bill for funding the surface transportation on Tuesday, February 7, at 3:00 p.m. Once it passes out of committee, it will be combined with the other Senate committee bills (Environment and Public Works – highway portion; Commerce – rail portion; and Banking – transit portion) and taken to the Senate floor for debate and a vote. We anticipate the combined bill to be released at the end of this week and voted on next week. In addition, the Transportation and Infrastructure bill, as well as the Ways and Means bill, are anticipated to go the House floor for debate and a vote next week.
We have a lot of work to do over the next several days to make sure that we win these issues when the bills go to the House and Senate floors during the week of February 13. TEN will keep you alerted with updates on these bills. In the meantime, let your Members of Congress know the following: 1) that any attempts at privatization are unacceptable; 2) that public transit must remain in the Highway Trust Fund; 3) that flexible transit operating assistance is necessary in this economic crisis; and 4) that workforce development provisions put people to work, especially low income people, people of color, and women.