The Second Session of the 112th Congress, which begins work later this month (the House of Representatives on January 17, Senate on January 23), is expected to open much as it closed in December: in a word, contentiously. By the time Members return to Washington, less than five weeks will remain in the two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits package which narrowly passed last session. This is precious little time to negotiate a new extension that will secure the measures through the end of 2012, and a number of volatile issues that prevented agreement on a year-long extension this past December - most related to paying for it - remain unresolved. Democrats are expected to renew calls for a surtax on income over $1 million to offset the cost of the extension while Republicans will likely continue to seek a freeze on government salaries as well as changes to public employees’ retirement programs. Neither of these proposals has been able to gain very much across-the-aisle traction in previous negotiations and little movement is anticipated ahead of this next round.
One piece of legislation which has been highlighted as a priority this coming session is a new transportation bill. House leadership, including Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL), had planned to produce a long-term replacement for SAFETEA-LU during the last session; the House Republicans have now been joined in their efforts by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who has vowed to make a new highway/transit bill one of the Senate’s highest priorities in 2012. Reid specifically singled out the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee’s MAP-21 as “a very, very good bill” – unfortunately, the legislation as drafted by the EPW committee would eliminate the 10 percent set-aside for Transportation Enhancements currently in SAFETEA-LU in addition to giving states the ability to ‘opt-out’ of funding TE projects entirely. Several senators, including Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) who serve on EPW and withdrew amendments during markup that would have reinstated the program, have expressed hope that more recreation-friendly language can be inserted into MAP-21 prior to the bill’s introduction on the Senate floor. Make your voice heard in supporting these lawmakers’ efforts to maintain funding for vital TE and parks resources.
And last but not least: a recent Time magazine online piece by Anthony DeBenedet and Lawrence Cohen provided a nice boost to NRPA efforts. Entitled “Funding Public Parks Could Save Lives,” the article cites several academic studies which posit that parks and recreational areas are not only great places to exercise and commune with nature; they may also actively contribute to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other health-related issues. The Time article’s authors summed it up well, so to borrow from them and propose a 2012 Resolution: “It’s time to get involved, go to parks, and vote for funding them as if your life depended on it. Because it just might.”
Written by: Leslie Mozingo, The Ferguson Group