FIRST ON FOX: Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the corporation in charge of public transportation in the New York City area, could see a windfall of up to $250 million over the next half-decade if the Railway Safety Act of 2023 is passed this month by Congress.
The funding would be a last-minute addition to the bill – originally introduced in response to the early February East Palestine train derailment. A Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in the Ohio town, sending panic through the community.
Amendments to the bill will be considered Wednesday in front of the Senate Commerce Committee before moving on to the full Senate for a vote.
The legislation, introduced by Sens. JD Vance, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has enjoyed bipartisan support, including from both 2024 front-runners, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, the latter endorsing the proposal on Monday.
"JD Vance has been working hard in the Senate to make sure nothing like this EVER happens again, and that’s why it’s so important for Congress to pass his Railway Safety Act. JD’s terrific bill has my Complete and Total Endorsement!!!" Trump posted on his social networking app, Truth Social.
The bill has yet to receive endorsement, however, from the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Senior Senate Republican aides tell FOX Business that part of the hold-up are questions about the provision added in the 11th hour that would enable commuter systems like the MTA – which serves the home state of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., — to receive increased funding.
The provision, titled "Temporary Defect Detection Assistance," would appropriate $50 million annually from the Department of Transportation (DOT) over the next five years to "commuter railroads whose contracts with Class I railroads." Those appropriations would then go to fund "defect detection technology" that would comply with the bill.
GOP Senate aides say that while the program could subsidize a limited number of other commuter rail systems, it was chiefly designed for the MTA, which would be the largest beneficiary if a formula traditionally used by the DOT to distribute money for transit money is enlisted.
It is not unusual for earmarks to make it into final versions of legislation in Congress, with members from both sides of the aisle engaging in the practice to secure money for home-state projects.
GOP sources, however, say the MTA benefiting in this instance is a particularly egregious example, given Schumer’s position as Senate majority leader and ongoing controversies with the transportation authority.
"This is massive taxpayer gift to Sen. Schumer and a mismanaged transit system that’s lost so many riders it now flirts with giving away its product for ‘free’ in the name of ‘equity,’" said one senior Senate GOP aide familiar with the negotiations.
"Just since 2020, federal taxpayers have given or pledged $25 billion to the MTA, but it’s never enough for a system that tolerates lawlessness and the local DA – Alvin Bragg – who doesn’t want to prosecute fare evaders. The earmark is a slap in the face of every hardworking taxpayer who doesn’t break the law and pays for their own commute to work," the aide added.
Indeed, the MTA has been the beneficiary of increased funding in recent years, including $16 billion in federal COVID relief funds, which Schumer has touted in the past, and a separate $10 billion from President Biden’s infrastructure bill.
Still, the transit system faces financial shortcomings, with the authority narrowly avoiding crisis last month when New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, D, and state lawmakers reached a deal over a possible budget gap of roughly $3 billion by 2025.
According to recent statistics, MTA ridership is still below pre-pandemic levels, as crime and reliability concerns remained prevalent.
It is likely the amendment will make it into the final bill due to the Democrat majority in the Senate, but sources say Republicans – including Cruz and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. – will be offering an amendment to strike the provision from the bill on Wednesday, with Cruz possibly offering his own amendment to force the provision to be funded with money previously authorized for the greater New York area.