Administration will seek $14B for transportation safety initiative

The Bush administration is set to ask Congress to provide the Transportation Department with $14 billion in new funds to pursue a new transportation safety initiative championed by Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, sources close to the issue said Wednesday.

Mineta announced the package during a closed-door meeting with highway construction officials, explaining the safety proposal will be the "centerpiece" of the White House's Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) reauthorization proposal.

As of Wednesday afternoon, details of the safety plan were unavailable, and it was unclear how much of the money would be spent on infrastructure safety projects and how much would go into other transportation-related areas, such as seat belts.

Mineta also told the highway executives that the Office of Management and Budget is in the final stages of vetting the administration's transportation package, explaining that White House officials are currently reworking the proposal's language on guaranteed funding levels and the budgetary "firewall" that protects the Highway Trust Fund from being used for other purposes, these sources said.

Although Mineta said he hopes to have the package out prior to testifying before the House and Senate Appropriations committees next week, one source said the administration may hold back the package until just after those hearings.

According to this source, because the administration is proposing a significantly smaller spending level than most in Congress support, they may want to hold back the final TEA-21 proposal's numbers in hopes of limiting the political backlash Mineta is expected to face.