GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) The new highway bill that Congress approved preserves funding flexibility for transit systems in Green Bay and Appleton, and provides Wisconsin $1.4 billion in funding over the next two years.
The bill passed June 29 in a rare show of bipartisanship. It passed in the House by a vote of 373-52, and in the Senate by a 74-19 vote.
The only members of the Wisconsin delegation to vote no were two Republicans: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, according to a Green Bay Press-Gazette report.
The measure authorizes about $100 billion for federal highway programs over the next two years. It also averts the need for another extension of funding based on the 2005 transportation bill. The current extension would have expired on June 30.
U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, a Shorewood Republican, had served on the conference committee that crafted a compromise between the original House and Senate versions. He said he was pleased that both parties collaborated on a multiyear highway bill that will restore certainty to the economy.
“It’s been a long road to this point,” Ribble said. “A sound infrastructure goes hand in hand with a sound economy, and I’m glad that we finally reached this historic agreement that puts an end to the status quo of short-term, uncertain extensions.”
Ribble had joined with U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, a Republican from Fond du Lac, to fight for an exception to one funding restriction. The restriction would have prevented Appleton’s Valley Transit and Green Bay’s Metro Transit systems from applying $1.5 million toward operating expenses.
Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna applauded the results, saying the outcome buys more time for transit officials to work on a more permanent funding solution.
“We’re thrilled that provision was included in this bill,” Hanna said.
Petri had voted against an earlier House version. He said the bill that passed June 29 has a funding formula that’s more favorable for Wisconsin.
“Today’s bill essentially maintains the favorable formula we have been working with since 2005,” Petri said. “We are getting this bill through just in time to avoid disrupting our state’s road construction season.”
Under the formula, Wisconsin would receive $719 million next year and $725 million in 2014, Petri said.
The other major aspect of the bill involved averting interest-rate increases on new loans to millions of undergraduate college students. Interest rates of 3.4 percent for subsidized Stafford loans were slated to double on July 1. Instead they’ll continue for another year.
Had the measure failed, interest rates would have mushroomed to 6.8 percent for 7.4 million students across the nation who are expected to get the loans over the coming year, adding an extra $1,000 to the average cost of each loan.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Madison Democrat and U.S. Senate candidate, said the agreement will benefit more than 160,000 Wisconsin college students in the upcoming school year.
“In passing this important legislation today, members of Congress have shown that they can work together in bipartisan fashion to address challenges facing our nation,” Baldwin said. “I sincerely hope that today’s action marks a new commitment to focus on the issues that matter most to hard-working, middle class Wisconsinites.”