News Releases

Statement of Chairman Patty Murray - Subcommittee Markup of the FY08 Appropriations Bill

Jul 10 2007

Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies

With 21 Members, this Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies is the largest subcommittee on the Appropriations Committee.  With more than a fifth of the Senate represented on this subcommittee, we may be the largest subcommittee in the entire Senate.

We meet today to mark up the appropriations bill for Transportation and Housing for 2008.  We had several weeks of hearings with witnesses from the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the general public.  I want to thank all the members of this subcommittee who participated in those hearings.  I especially want to thank my Ranking Member and partner in this effort, Senator Bond, for all his assistance in conducting our hearings and in putting together this bill.  Senator Bond and I have had several conversations and kept in close touch over the recess week to ensure that we put together a bill that could enjoy broad bi-partisan support.  The Full Committee is scheduled to mark up our bill this coming Thursday at 2:00 pm.  I will make a more detailed statement on the bill at that time.  But for now, I just want to outline a few of the highlights of the bill that is before you.

Overall the bill provides budgetary resources, including appropriations and obligation limitations, totaling $104.6 billion.  That amount is $5.3 billion more than the amount enacted for 2007 and roughly $4.4 billion more than the President’s request.  There are a number of simple reasons why this bill is higher than the President’s requested level.

Housing

First and foremost the bill before you rejects many of the most punitive cuts in housing and transportation investment programs proposed in the President’s budget.  The President proposed to cut community development efforts in all our states and communities across the Nation by slashing the CDBG program by $735 million or twenty (20%) percent.  This bill restores every penny of that cut.  The President’s budget proposes to cut housing funding for the disabled by $112 million or almost fifty (50%) percent.  His budget also sought to cut housing for low-income seniors by $160 million or twenty-two (22%) percent.  The bill before you restores every penny of those cuts.  

The bill also rejects the President’s proposal to completely eliminate funding for the very successful HOPE VI program.  My colleagues, Senators Bond and Mikulski, deserve a great deal of credit for the success of this program, and we have again restored funding for it.  

AMTRAK

The bill before us also rejects several punitive cuts proposed through the Department of Transportation.  The President’s budget proposes to slash funding for AMTRAK by almost $500 million or forty (40%) percent in a single year.  The Subcommittee heard testimony in February that a cut of this size would cripple the railroad and push it into certain bankruptcy.  That was not just the view of AMTRAK supporters.  This was the view of the DOT Inspector General, who audits AMTRAK’s books every quarter.  So the bill before you provides $1.37 billion for AMTRAK, a very slight increase over the current year’s level.  It also provides a $100 million state matching grant program for passenger rail investments.  That was the one area of the President’s proposal for rail transportation that we could agree with.  

Essential Air Service

The bill before you also rejects the President’s proposal to cut subsidies for the essential air service and eliminate all flights to dozens of rural and mid-sized communities in just about every State represented on this Committee.

Air Traffic Control Modernization & Airport Grants

The bill before you also restores every penny of the President’s proposed cut of $765 million from the Airport Grant Program.  It also rejects the President’s proposal to cut investments in the modernization of our Air Traffic Control system.

Highway Funding & the Highway Trust Fund

When it comes to highway funding, the bill fully funds the authorized level as stipulated in the SAFETEA-LU highway law.  That funding level represents an increase of $1.1 billion over last year and $631 million over the President’s budget.  

I need to sound an important warning, however, about our highway program and the deteriorating status of the Highway Trust Fund.   Members will find in the committee report a table indicating that, if we keep pace with the levels authorized in the highway bill, the Trust Fund will find itself bankrupt to the tune of almost $2 billion dollars in 2009.  I am told, that when the President releases his mid-session review of the budget tomorrow, the status of the Highway Trust Fund may appear to be even more dire than our Committee report indicates.  Without some action by the Finance Committee, our subcommittee may be forced to dramatically scale back our investments to alleviate congestion and address deteriorating bridge and road conditions in our states. 

We discussed this problem with Secretary Peters during our very first hearing this year, and we have been in conversations with the Finance Committee about the urgency of this situation.  Senator Bond and I received a letter on this issue from the bi-partisan leadership from the Finance Committee earlier this year.  That letter states their expectation to address this problem soon, so we can keep pace with the investment levels envisioned in the SAFETEA-LU law.  I hope all my colleagues will join with me in pushing the tax-writing committees to address this shortfall.  

Tenant Assistance

Finally the bill before us includes some select but critically needed funding increases.  The President’s budget proposed an absolute freeze on the amount of money available for tenant housing vouchers for the coming year, completely ignoring inflationary costs, and cost increases associated with the rise in rents.  This bill provides a $500 million increase for tenant-based rental assistance.  That is the amount we estimate will be needed just to ensure that all current federally-assisted tenants can stay in their homes.

Housing for Veterans

Senator Bond and I joined forces to add $75 million for the HUD-VASH program.  This program was designed to target both housing assistance and supportive services to homeless veterans, including veterans returning from the war in Iraq.  We have coordinated this increase in voucher funding with a comparable increase in supportive services funding in the Appropriations bill for the VA and Military Construction.  This program hasn’t received funding for several years, and I am proud to say that our new initiative will provide critically needed support to at least 7,500 homeless veterans.

Transportation Safety

The bill has also included small and selective increases to address critical and worsening problems with transportation safety.  Small increases above the President’s budget are provided to hire more air safety inspectors.  At present, these inspectors can’t inspect all the maintenance facilities they are responsible for, especially those facilities that are overseas.

We have provided small increases for rail safety, highway safety and pipeline safety.  Our subcommittee had a special hearing just on the rising level of highway fatalities and we have sought to respond the some of the needs cited during that hearing.  We have also provided increased funding to enable the Department of Transportation to investigate the growing backlog of customer service complaints by airline passengers.  

As members know, the staff of each Subcommittee Member was briefed on the contents of this bill just this morning.  Members have had just a few hours to review it thoroughly.  As such, I would like to ask Members to defer any amendments they may wish to offer to our Full Committee markup, which we will have in just two days.  I encourage my Colleagues to review the entirety of the bill and bring any concerns they have to Senator Bond and me to discuss them prior to that mark-up.