This week signals the return of Congress after a month-long recess. With Congress facing looming deadlines relative to passage of the FY12 spending bills (appropriations bills), the expiration of the current surface transportation law (which includes funding for trails), and the creation of a plan for deficit reduction, this week’s activities provides a telling forecast of the rapid pace Congress will move through the end of the year and the mayhem that pace is likely to produce.
Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a four-month extension of the current transportation law. The Senate is continuing to work on its version of the reauthorization of the surface transportation law. We know that Republican leaders in the House have stated they want to eliminate the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program which requires states to set-aside 10 percent of the surface transportation money it receives for projects such as trails. House leaders have also called for the elimination of line-item funding for programs such as the Rails to Trails program. While Senator Boxer has said there will be mandatory funding for trails in the Senate’s version of the bill, it is uncertain whether Senate leaders will be able to garner support from their Republican colleagues for such funding.
On the other side of the Capitol, the House will mark up the Transportation-HUD appropriations bill that will determine how much funding will flow to the states in FY12 for transportation related programs. This funding will be guided by current law which means TE will be required to receive funding and the Rails to Trails program will likely receive some level of funding for FY12.
Also today, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction will begin its work with a with a public organizational meeting before President Obama addresses a much-publicized joint session of Congress to unveil his new plan for job growth,. The 12-member bipartisan “deficit super committee,” is charged with finding ways to cut at least $1.2 trillion in spending through 2021. House Democrats are pushing to attach jobs initiatives to any of the panel’s legislation, which the President will be making the case during his landmark speech this evening. Republicans will oppose any proposals that add spending to the $14 trillion debt, preferring instead regulatory rollbacks to help stimulate the economy.
It is very likely we could see this committee recommend the elimination of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides money to state and local communities for outdoor recreational resources.
In summary, we have Democrats and Republicans in Congress working to cut spending, which includes cuts to programs that impact park and recreation agencies, while on the same day, the President plans to call on Congress to spend more than $300 billion for a stimulus package. How do we balance two seemingly competing priorities of cutting the deficit and stimulating the economy and where does funding for park and recreation infrastructure and programs fit into that conversation?
Stacey Pine is NRPA’s Chief Government Affairs Officer.
Additional contributions made by Leslie Mozingo, Partner, The Ferguson Group