WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan coalition of senators has hammered out an agreement to raise spending on mass transit by $5 billion over the next six years, an accord likely to have an important impact in Maryland.
The agreement resulted from efforts by senators from Northeastern states who are concerned that public transportation needs are being slighted as Southern and Western lawmakers try to steer highway dollars to their regions.
Key senators resolved the dispute through a familiar Washington maneuver -- they placated the sides by increasing money for highways and public transportation.
By voice vote yesterday, senators endorsed the addition of $26 billion in highway spending to the comprehensive six-year transportation bill, for a total of $173 billion.
Meanwhile, a group of senators that included Maryland's Paul S. Sarbanes announced the new spending for mass transit, which they said had been shortchanged by highway advocates.
Though it has not been scheduled for a vote, the proposal to subsidize subways, rail systems and bus routes has received the blessing of Sen. Pete V. Domenici, the New Mexico Republican who heads the Budget Committee.
"This can only be characterized as moving America forward," said Sarbanes, the senior Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, who is pushing the proposal along with the panel's chairman, Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York.
Domenici said the added spending for mass transit -- the $5 billion would raise the total to about $41 billion over six years -- would not require a breach of spending caps set in last year's balanced budget agreement.
For more than a decade, 20 cents of every dollar set aside for transportation -- most of which comes from the 4.3 cents per gallon gasoline tax -- was routed to mass transit needs. But recently, Southern and Western states, which are less densely populated than those in the Northeast, sought more money for highway projects, saying their constituents' gas taxes were propping up public transportation initiatives in other states.
D'Amato and Sarbanes, who were joined at the news conference by senators from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas, said they set aside half the added money for new programs to help earn support from lawmakers in states that do not have extensive public transportation systems. They hailed the package as a victory for a clean environment and a better way of life.
"Senator Sarbanes and I have had our colleagues come to us with something like $14 billion in requests for new programs," D'Amato said.
The companion measure in the House of Representatives is not as far along. Transportation Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, is seeking a total of $181 billion over six years.
The transportation measure was passed in 1991 and expired last September. Legislators are rushing to pass a new version before a temporary extension expires at the end of April.
It is not clear what the Senate measure would mean to Maryland. But Gov. Parris N. Glendening, speaking last week to the state's federal lawmakers, set out his mass transit priorities. They include: $50.3 million to complete the final stages of the Washington-area Metrorail system, which would lengthen it from 93 miles to 103 miles, including parts in Prince George's County.
$30 million toward the continued expansion of MARC, the state's rail commuter service, such as connecting the Penn-Amtrak corridor and the Camden line.
$200 million for MARC capital improvement plans to upgrade rail cars, locomotives and tracks.
$20 million to replace 68 state Mass Transit Authority buses and 50 small buses for local jurisdictions throughout Maryland.
Pub Date: 3/06/98