The purpose of today's hearing is to discuss ISTEA's program eligibility, funding flexibility and proposals to expand or limit this flexibility.
Let me clarify that we are looking at two very distinct issues today.
First, we will examine the flexibility permitted under ISTEA. this flexibility allows our state and local transportation partners to use Highway Trust Fund dollars to meet their own highway and transit priorities.
Second, we will discuss the Administration's proposal to expand the eligible uses of moneys from the Highway Trust Fund.
The current ISTEA program allows states to transfer funds among various program categories -- shifting funds among the National Highway System, Bridge, or Surface Transportation programs. Also, ISTEA allows states to spend their STP or CMAQ funds on transit projects and other intermodal projects aimed at moving people and goods more efficiently.
I believe giving our transportation partners this flexibility to meet their individual needs has been highly successful. It has been one of the strongest cornerstones of ISTEA and a principle that is continued in the reauthorization bill I am sponsoring - STEP 21.
On the matter of using Highway Trust Fund dollars to fund other transportation purposes that do not contribute to Fund, I have serious reservations.
The Administration's proposal to fund all of Amtrak's operating and capital expenses from the Highway Trust Fund rather than the General Fund is a major departure from current law.
This Subcommittee has repeatedly heard testimony from the Federal Highway Administration and other witnesses during our hearings that we should be spending $50 billion more than our current investments just to maintain the conditions and performance of our surface transportation system.
We know the significant challenge before us to increase funding to meet our existing transportation demands.
Because of this challenge, I question the wisdom of using limited dollars to fund Amtrak, freight rail activities and other purposes not central to our national transportation system.