Washington, DC — Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, issues this statement on the 2016 Fiscal Year Omnibus Funding Bill and tax extenders:
“We are pleased that the FY16 Omnibus package reverses many of the damaging transportation funding cuts proposed earlier in the year, and includes a number of policy improvements supported by TTD and our member unions. While our broad transportation network is in need of more robust federal support, the funding levels included in this package, given the limitations of the current budget, are a step in the right direction.
“This bill gives an important and necessary funding boost to the Maritime Security Program (MSP) while simultaneously authorizing an unprecedented long-term funding commitment to finance the program into the future. By providing long-term certainty to the U.S. Merchant Marine fleet, we will retain thousands of middle-class mariner jobs and ensure MSP continues serving our military’s sealift needs. We are also pleased that this bill finally spends money out of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund at levels set by Congress in the 2014 WRRDA Act, which will improve the competitiveness of our nation’s seaports.
“Mass transit formula and bus grants, highway programs and safety improvements paid for out of the Highway Trust Fund received the higher funding levels authorized in the recently enacted FAST Act. And the critical ‘New Starts’ transit capital grant program did better than what was provided in both the House and Senate bills. Given the long-neglected state of our transit systems, highways and bridges, these efforts to fulfill the promise of the bipartisan surface transportation law are the right course.
“While we are pleased that negotiators rejected House funding levels for Amtrak that would have dealt a serious blow to the railroad, we are disappointed that the amount still falls short of authorized levels for passenger rail. Given that this is just a few weeks after Congress approved a multi-year rail reauthorization law, we are concerned about both the immediate and long-term impact this will have on Amtrak’s ability to provide the safe and efficient service that passengers are demanding. The bill does remove politically motivated riders included in the House bill that would have placed artificial and unnecessary barriers to completion of California’s high-speed rail project.
“Aviation funding does well under this bill and we are especially pleased with the funding levels for FAA operations, Next-Gen improvements to our air traffic control system and airport improvement grants that are urgently needed.
“Separate from the funding levels in this package, we support the inclusion of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act, which will ensure the men and women who worked and risked their lives at Ground Zero receive the medical treatment and compensation benefits they deserve. The two-year delay of the so-called ‘Cadillac tax’ on health care plans is welcome news that will provide time to repeal this policy which has already caused many union and non-union workers to face a hollowing out of their health care.
“Finally, we applaud lawmakers for removing a bias in the federal tax code against public transportation by permanently restoring parity between employer-provided parking and transit benefits. This will help the millions of working people who use transit systems across the country and employers that rely on the benefit to reduce payroll costs.
“We urge lawmakers to swiftly pass this bill.”