Each year, the federal government allocates a significant portion of the overall Federal Budget to expenditures that have a direct impact on the states. This includes monies to support programs such as Medicare, food stamps, unemployment compensation, transportation and infrastructure, Medicaid support, job training and education amongst others. According to the (Michigan) State Fiscal Agency, “Michigan’s share of Federal expenditures has lagged behind the amount of most other states.” (See State Fiscal Report, May/June 2009). The report finds that “Michigan’s total per-capita expenditures ranked 45th among the states and 41st among the states in grants to state and local governments.” Id. This means that Michigan is receiving less than its fair share of Federal expenditures
In terms of transit/transportation dollars, Michigan taxpayers lose about $100 million a year in federal transit aid because the state and its major cities have failed to plan for and invest in world-class bus and train service. In fact, 34 counties in Michigan with little public transit service.
Given the current economic climate in Lansing, there are a number of opportunities for Michigan businesses, organizations and institutions to secure support from Congress and the federal government. For example: States are hoping that a new jobs bill outlined by the President will include money for infrastructure projects.
Despite the possibility of having these funds available, Michigan may be ineligible for $475 million in federal highway money next year because it can’t find $84 million in matching state funds. This means that the state may lose out on nearly have a billion dollars in federal highway money in 2010 and even m ore through 2014.
Despite Michigan's potential shortfall, there is time to advocate for change in Congress and find the resources to fund shovel-ready projects, to help create jobs, boost our state's infrastructure and jump-start our ailing economy.
While Congress chose to delay reauthorizing the Transportation Equity Act, they are allowing authorities and road commission’s time to shape the debate and the outcome of the legislation, including positioning such entities to secure federal funding through the reauthorization. With a lack of funding coming from the state, now is the perfect opportunity to turn to Washington for federal support and seek modifications to exist laws and regulations that would prevent Michigan from capturing additional federal support.
For example, the current surface transportation law, the Safe, Affordable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU, P.L. 109-53), was adopted in 2005 and expired on September 30, 2009. To give you some idea of how political this bill was -- When Congress finally passed the last transportation bill in 2005, it took two years and 12 extensions to complete it.
At stake is the dwindling Highway Trust Fund, financed by a federal gas tax that pays for repairs to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. At issue is an effort by Congress and the President to set the nation’s transportation policy for the rest of the decade and perhaps for decades to come. The outcome will be critical to state and local governments that depend on federal assistance to maintain and improve their transportation systems.
The end game will be the creation of a funding mechanism that will ensure the national transportation system will meet the demands of an expanding population while also accommodating the environmental priorities of those who want to see less road congestion, less accidents and more transit options.
For transportation planning organizations it could mean a modern, sustainable and seamless surface transportation network, that fully integrates and connects the nation’s small urban and rural regions with global, metropolitan and neighboring markets. It could also mean increased federal investments in existing and new rural public transportation system, with an emphasis on establishing stronger incentives and program flexibility across the spectrum.
While we will wait almost a year before Congress will most likely pass a transportation bill, Congress continues to debate issues of transit and transportation and will soon debate a “jobs” bill that will contain federal funding for local infrastructure projects. For example, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “American Clean Energy and Security Act” (H.R. 2454) in June, and the Senate is still debating their bill. Both bills contain provisions affecting transit, transportation, infrastructure projects and jobs.
Although Congress will not pass a transportation bill until next year, there are still opportunities for transit agencies and organizations to secure resources for a variety of projects through existing bills, and help shape funding for future projects by taking a proactive role in advising Congress on what is important to your agency and community. We need advocates in Washington to support projects in the State of Michigan. We need effective leadership to create a collaborative group of like-minded agencies to support what is necessary to bring the requisite resources to re-build Michigan and create opportunities for us to get back to work.
Therefore, if you have certain projects that need to be funded or policy related issues that can benefit your program, it is important that you meet with your planning organizations; MDOT, the Governor and your Congressional Delegation to ensure their priorities are your priorities. Then it is important to work with your chambers and other community organizations to build a solid base of support for your projects. Despite a full agenda, Congress needs to hear from you and what you need to provide valuable resources to your community. With limited funds from the state and dwindling budgets all around, it seems that Congress is our only option.