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Letter to the Senate on Amendments to Transportation Bill

March 08, 2012

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we would like to offer our views on several amendments expected to be offered today to S.1813, the Surface Transportation bill.  Specifically, we urge you to: 

  • Vote YES on an amendment by Senator Baucus (D-MT) to extend for one year the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act
  • Vote NO on and amendment by Senator Corker (R-TN) to impose discretionary spending caps, and
  • Vote NO on an amendment by Senator Coburn (R-OK) to address “duplicative” programs.  

Votes associated with these issues may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 112th Congress.   

Secure Rural Schools. The Baucus amendment would extend for one year the critical Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.  Prior to initial passage of this Act, many forest-impacted communities had seen dramatic reductions in federal forest land revenues due to significant decreases in federal timber sales.  As a result, payments to many rural forest schools dropped to less than ten percent of their historic levels.  Many forest communities faced devastating losses of education funding leading to reductions in teaching staff and other education personnel, elimination of extracurricular programs, cancellation of school meals programs, and postponement of desperately needed building repairs.  

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act offered a solution to the forest county education funding crisis by ensuring a predictable payment to federally-impacted forest counties.  The program has restored critical educational services for students in over 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools.  It has prevented the closure of numerous isolated rural schools.  Without the program, impacted counties would have had to lay off school staff and other public service employees, close libraries, curtail sheriff patrols, release prisoners from jails, cease search and rescue operations, and eliminate mental health care services.   However, these communities and schools continue to struggle.  They need a short term extension of the current program in order to work on a long-term, sustainable solution that will foster development and economic recovery and help ensure their security and vitality into the future.   

Spending Caps.  The Corker amendment would impose a four percent cut to non-defense discretionary spending in order to pay for a shortfall in mandatory spending.   The amendment is a clear violation of the Budget Control Act Congress agreed to less than a year ago.  Addressing the nation’s long-term fiscal challenges requires more than another series of cuts to discretionary programs that have already sustained significant reductions.  We need a balanced approach that addresses revenues as well as mandatory and discretionary spending.  The Corker amendment eschews such a balanced approach in favor of more cuts to non-defense discretionary funding.    We cannot continue to ask children, seniors, and other vulnerable populations to bear the burden of deficit reduction without asking those most able to do so to pay their fair share.  

Duplicative programs.  The Coburn amendment purports to eliminate “duplicative” programs, but it actually sets an arbitrary cut of $10 billion to discretionary caps agreed to in the Budget Control Act, regardless of the value of programs identified as duplicative.  Like the Corker amendment discussed above, the Coburn amendment rejects a balanced approach by failing to address revenue or mandatory spending and choosing to place the burden of deficit reduction solely on discretionary programs.  The amendment gives all decision-making authority to the Office of Management and Budget, circumventing a well thought-out process that recognizes the checks and balances between the Executive and Legislative Branches.  The Senate rejected a similar amendment last year and should do the same again.   

We thank you for your consideration of our views on these important issues. 

Sincerely, 

Kim Anderson
Director, Center for Advocacy 

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations