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In a letter to Finance Committee leaders [PDF], 25 senators today urged adequate funding for mass transit in the next transportation authorization bill.

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The letter notes that public transportation systems find themselves in a budgetary crisis just as more and more people, driven by $4/gallon gas, are seeking out transportation options.

During the worst economic downturn in recent memory, we must identify new approaches for funding infrastructure projects. A truly long-term and prudent vision for a future transportation network will strengthen the role of public transportation in growing our communities and ensure that new funding strategies do not favor highway spending to the detriment of public transportation spending.

Americans want and deserve transportation options that reflect community priorities and values. At a time when deficit reduction is attracting the full focus of the Congress, we implore the Committee to strengthen the Mass Transit Account’s fair share of funding in the next surface transportation authorization to guarantee that our economic recovery continues and that we can be more self-reliant in meeting our transportation needs.

The letter doesn't specifically ask for a larger share of surface transportation dollars than the 20 percent mass transit historically is allotted, but they do ask for transit's share to be strengthened. Apparently, given the challenges implicit in getting 25 senators to agree on anything, that vague language was as specific as they could get.

In a statement on the letter, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Banking subcommittee with jurisdiction over public transportation, pointed out the need for new transportation revenues -- and the fact that the House is going in the opposite direction.

Congress is currently working on reauthorizing the surface transportation bill, which expires on September 30. If spending continues at current levels, the highway account could run out of money next year and the transit account shortly thereafter. The Senate Finance Committee is responsible for funding these accounts. The House of Representatives is currently developing a transportation bill that follows the Ryan Budget’s direction to cut surface transportation funding by 31 percent.

A list of senators signing on to the letter is after the jump.

    • Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
    • Dick Durbin (D-IL)
    • Charles Schumer (D-NY)
    • Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
    • Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ)
    • Tom Carper (D-DE)
    • Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
    • Ron Wyden (D-OR)
    • Ben Cardin (D-MD)
    • Robert Casey (D-PA)
    • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
    • Jack Reed (D-RI)
    • Michael Bennet (D-CO)
    • Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
    • Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
    • Patty Murray (D-WA)
    • Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
    • Joe Lieberman (I-CT)
    • Tom Udall (D-NM)
    • John Kerry (D-MA)
    • Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
    • Chris Coons (D-DE)
    • Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
    • Jim Webb (D-VA)
    • Mark Warner (D-VA)

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