DOT Gets a New Secretary and Congress Advances FY 14 DOT Appropriations
Yesterday was a big day for DOT. Not only did the Senate unanimously approve Charlotte, NC, Mayor, Anthony Foxx as Secretary of Transportation, replacing Ray LaHood, but both House and Senate Appropriations Committees reported their versions of FY14 appropriations for the Department. There is some disappointment with both markups. Of greatest concern is the Senate bill’s treatment of the President’s request to impose a user fee on applicants for special permits and approvals. The Senate report states that the “user fee is fully justified” and proposes to fully-fund the President’s request for OHMS at $51.8 million in anticipation that the fee “be established through the regulatory process or should be addressed through the authorization process.” (Emphasis added.) Suggesting that OHMS has authority to impose the fee without authorizing language is very concerning. Absent the fee and based on a GAO recalculation of the revenues PHMSA would need to run the program - $6 million not $12 million – the Committee recommended a general revenue appropriations of $45.8 million, or $3.039 million more than recommended by the House Appropriations Committee. The new funds are to cover cost-of-living adjustments and information technology modernization. The appropriation also provided $1,716,000, 9,000 less than the House, for OHMS’ research program, but authorized the funds for two-years rather than the standard three-year rollover. (This may be a technical error.) The Committee fully-funds the HMEP grants programs, as did the House, at $23.8 million. In the House, no changes were made to the OHMS account. Of special note, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) proposed and then withdrew an amendment that would have ensured due process for motor carriers denied hazardous materials safety permits. As you know, this is a HMTA reauthorization priority of the Interested Parties. He had to withdraw the amendment because, at the time, he needed more time to fully vet the proposal with T&I Committee leadership to ensure that it was not “authorizing language”, lacking such clearance the Appropriations Committee leadership had announced that no amendments adding authorizing language would be accepted. Dent still used the markup as an opportunity to put down a marker on this issue with an intent to follow up with an amendment when the legislation reaches the House floor.