House approves transit bill - but not the money for rural schools

The U.S. House of Representatives ended a weeks-long standoff and passed a stopgap three-month bill Thursday to keep federal highway money flowing - but the measure does not include funds for rural schools and counties.

The Surface Transportation Bill was approved by the Senate on March 8 but is still stalled in the House. That bill includes $346 million for a one-year renewal of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act - a decades-old appropriation Congress has used to compensate rural communities throughout the U.S. for federal restrictions on timber harvests and the local tax payments logging generates.

But the House GOP leadership cannot come to an agreement with Democrats in the Senate on how to pay for both the Secure Schools Act and the far larger $109 billion transportation bill.

Under pressure from business groups and the construction lobby, the House passed the scaled-down transit funding bill mostly along party lines.

The Senate must pass the same bill before Saturday or risk a shutdown of hundreds of projects that could jeopardize as many as 1.8 million jobs.

The fate of the Secure Schools Act is uncertain. Legislative staffers in the capital said Thursday that negotiations are continuing but there is no clear path to resolution - not a surprise to many observers given the stakes in this presidential election year.

As proposed, the act would have provided $31.7 million to California rural schools - desperately needed funding for districts in remote areas that have been hit especially hard by rising fuel and energy costs as well as declining enrollment. more