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Senator Murray Warns that Housing, Aviation Safety, and Highway Safety Will Suffer Unless the Senate Passes the Joint Funding Resolution (H.J. Res 20)

Feb 12 2007

Murray Quotes Bush's Transportation Secretary Saying Cuts Would Have "Drastic Consequences"

(Washington, D.C.) - In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) warned that unless the Senate passes a Joint Funding Resolution, Americans will see painful cuts to housing, highway safety, aviation safety, pipeline safety, and highway construction. Murray quoted U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who told Murray last week that these cuts would have "drastic consequences."



Murray noted that the Federal Aviation Administration would be forced to furlough all air traffic controllers and all air safety inspectors for two weeks unless the Joint Funding Resolution is approved. In addition, critical housing programs for low-income families would be cut - leaving hundreds of thousands of vulnerable individuals without housing. Highway safety and construction projects would also face cuts.



Murray called on the Senate to pass House Joint Resolution 20, the Joint Funding Resolution, before the current funding bill expires on February 15th. Murray spoke against suggestions by some Senators that instead the Senate should pass a Continuing Resolution that continues funding at last year's levels, which would impose the cuts that Murray warned about.



Murray chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development & Related Agencies. On Thursday, Murray asked Secretary Peters about the cuts at the subcommittee's first hearing of the year.



Senator Murray's remarks follow:



Mr. President, I rise in strong support of House Joint Resolution 20 - the Joint Funding Resolution for the current fiscal year. If we don't pass this bipartisan bill, the safety of American citizens could put in danger. Without this bill, air traffic controllers will be furloughed, and air safety inspectors will be furloughed. If we don't pass this bipartisan bill, we will see a decline in our ability to provide railroad inspections, pipeline safety inspections, and truck safety inspections.



We will also feel the consequences in the area of housing. If we don't pass this bill, hundreds of thousands of Americans will face a housing crisis.

  • 157,000 low-income people could lose their housing


  • 70,000 people could lose their housing vouchers


  • 11,500 housing units that are housing the homeless could be lost




Mr. President, those are just of the consequences that Americans will face if this Congress fails to pass the Joint Funding Resolution. But don't take my word for it. On Thursday, I held a hearing with President Bush's very able Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters. Secretary Peters is not a newcomer to the Transportation field. She has spent her entire career working to ensure safety and execute infrastructure projects, largely in the State of Arizona. She also served as the Federal Highway Administrator.



Unless We Pass H.R. Res 20, Safety Will be Compromised



Secretary Peters told us in very clear terms how safety would be affected if we fail to pass this Joint Funding Resolution. Let me share her exact words - from just a few days ago. Secretary Peters told the Senate, quote:

"[I]f we were funded at the '06 levels . . . it would have drastic consequences, not only at the FAA, but as you mentioned within other safety programs, such as our rail safety programs, our truck inspection programs and of course the air traffic controllers and inspectors at maintenance facilities for the aviation community."


Mr. President, the Bush Administration's transportation secretary is warning us of "drastic consequences" if we fail to pass this bill. Let's talk about those consequences. I asked Secretary Peters what it would mean for safety and hiring if Congress does not pass the Joint Funding Resolution. She said,

"[W]e will see a serious decline in the number of safety inspectors: truck safety inspectors, rail safety inspectors, aviation inspectors across the broad range in our program." That's directly from the President's transportation secretary.



Does any Senator want to be responsible for voting for a "serious decline" in the number of truck safety inspectors, rail safety inspectors, and aviation safety inspectors? How would you explain to your constituents that you voted to undermine their safety as they travel by car, train or plane? You couldn't say that you didn't know how your vote would hurt safety because we have the very clear warnings from the Transportation Secretary. So the first reason we need to pass this Joint Funding Resolution is to keep critical safety inspectors on the job - protecting the American people as they're doing today.



Unless We Pass H.J. Res 20, State Highway Construction Will Stall



We also need to pass the Joint Funding Resolution because, without it, states will not be able address their most pressing highway, bridge and road problems. In fact, Secretary Peters warned that some states could miss an entire construction season if Congress does not enact this bill soon. She said that state transportation commissioners need to know how much money will be available to them this year.



Secretary Peters said, "It is especially important to those states who have a construction season that will be upon us very, very shortly, and if they are not able to know that this funding is coming and be able to let contracts accordingly we could easily miss an entire construction season."



So your constituents will feel the impact of your vote in roads that are fixed or roads that remain clogged, congested and unsafe. Those are just a few of the safety consequences if this Congress fails to pass the bipartisan Joint Funding Resolution.



Housing: Unless We Pass H.J. Res 20, Housing Will Suffer



The failure to pass H. J. Res. 20 will also have a painful impact on housing for hundreds of thousands of Americans. In this bipartisan bill, we worked hard to make sure that vulnerable families would not be thrown out on the streets or face out-of-reach rent increases. We provided some critical support for Section 8, Homeless Assistance Grants, Housing Equity Conversion Loans, HOPE VI, and the Public Housing Operating Fund.



For Section 8 project-based assistance, this spending resolution provides an increase of $939 million over the FY 2006 level. It provides $300 million over the President's 2007 budget request. This is essential to preserve affordable housing for 157,000 low-income households. Without this increase, many of these low-income residents will become homeless, will be displaced or will face unaffordable rent increases.



For Section 8 tenant-based assistance, this spending resolution provides an increase of $502 million, equal to the President's 2007 budget request, to continue to renew expiring vouchers. Without this increase, more than 70,000 housing vouchers will be lost. That means residents may become homeless, displaced, or forced into overcrowded housing.



For Homeless Assistance Grants, this funding resolution provides an increase of $115 million to meet expiring contracts for homeless individuals and families. Without this increase, as many as 11,500 units will not be renewed, forcing these homeless individuals and families back onto the street.



The joint resolution also helps thousands of seniors to stay in their home by supporting Housing Equity Conversion Loans (HECM). Currently, 90 percent of all reverse mortgages for the elderly fall under this guarantee program. Without this language, this popular program with shut down - hurting the ability of thousands of elderly individuals and couples to remain in their homes and pay for other critical living expenses.



This Joint Resolution extends the authorization for the HOPE VI program, which is helping us to knock down the most deteriorated public housing units and replace them with new, safe housing units. If this bill is not adopted, not a single dollar will go out for this popular program for the remainder of this year.



Finally, this resolution will help housing authorities meet their soaring expenses. This resolution supports the Public Housing Operating Fund. It provides an increase of $300 million over the 2006 level to meet the tremendous shortfalls being face by public housing authorities when it comes to meeting increased energy costs and provide necessary security to prevent crime.



Recently, more than 700 public housing authorities have announced layoffs. According to HUD, without this increase, public housing authorities will receive only 76 percent of their true operating needs in FY 2007. So the consequences would be severe for vulnerable families if this Congress does not pass the Joint Funding Resolution.



A Bipartisan Bill



Mr. President, I want to step back and share how we developed this bipartisan bill and how we worked to make sure that critical needs are not overlooked. Today, every agency in the Federal Government with the exception of the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security are operating under a continuing resolution that freezes almost every federal program at last year's level. If a program isn't frozen at last year's level, it is operating at a level consistent with the cuts adopted by the House of Representatives last year. So, at present, almost all of our Federal agencies are operating under a funding formula that makes no accommodations for the true needs of our agencies or the true needs of the American people. That means we're not addressing critical education needs, health needs, the needs of our veterans, the needs of law enforcement, transportation, housing, you name it.

The current continuing resolution expires on February 15th. The time has now come for the Congress to stand up to its responsibility and implement a spending bill that meets the needs of the American people. That bill is H.J. Res 20.



The bill passed the House of Representatives by a more than 2 to 1 margin. And the time has come for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility. H.J. Res 20 was developed by the both the House and the Senate Appropriations Committees on a bipartisan basis. The Joint Funding Resolution, for the most part, freezes programs across the government at their 2006 funding level.



Safety Funding



Importantly, however, the bill also makes necessary funding adjustments to deal with critical programs that cannot and should not endure a funding freeze. In the case of the Transportation Department, we were not about to ignore our responsibility to ensure safety in our skies, on our highways and on our railways. The bill provides funding increases totaling more than a quarter billion dollars to ensure that there are adequate numbers of personnel to control air traffic, as well as inspect and enforce safety rules governing commercial airliners, trucks, railroads and pipelines.



Without this additional funding, the FAA Administrator told us that she would be required to put every air traffic controller and every aviation inspector on the street for two weeks without pay between now and the end of September.



Amtrak

The Joint Funding Resolution currently before the Senate also boosts funding for AMTRAK to $1.3 billion. Under the current Continuing Resolution, AMTRAK's funding would remain $200 million lower than it was last year. That would endanger passenger rail service across the country as well as the annual maintenance expenses that must be made to ensure safe operations in the Northeast Corridor.



Highway Funding



Finally the bill pending before the Senate provides an additional $3.75 billion in formula funding for our nation's highway and transit systems. That funding will serve to create almost 160 thousand new jobs, while alleviating congestion. It will be an important infusion of cash to the States to help them address their most pressing bridge replacements, highway widenings, and safety enhancements. When you look at all the highway needs across my State of Washington, the additional $71 million the State will receive is urgently needed and can be put to work right away.



Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a table provided to me by the Federal Highway Administration that displays the highway funding increases that will be enjoyed by each and every state be included in the record at this point.



A Continuing Resolution is NOT the Same as the Joint Funding Resolution



Now, some of our Senate colleagues have suggested that we should not adopt the new Joint Funding Resolution. Instead, they have advocated that we extend the existing CR through the remainder of the year. They are saying that we should forgo these desperately needed funds for highways and transit. They are saying that we should allow the FAA to furlough all its safety personnel for two weeks. They are saying that we should allow our aviation, truck, railroad and pipeline inspection workforce to dwindle.



We Must Pass this Bill



If we want to keep air traffic controllers on the job, we need to pass this bill. If we want to keep air safety inspectors on the job, we need to pass this bill. If we want to keep highway, pipeline and truck inspections on track, we need to pass this bill. If we want to help our states address their most urgent bridge, road and highway problems, we need to pass this bill. If we want to keep vulnerable families from losing their housing, we need to pass this bill. The consequences are high, and that's why I urge my colleagues to support the Joint Funding Resolution.