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Avoiding a government shutdown, Congress moves to preserve TIGER and transit funding — for now

In a budget deal to fund the government through the end of September, Congress partially accommodated the President’s requests for more defense and security spending, but ignored his requests to eliminate funding for TIGER, new transit construction, and other programs vital for building strong local communities.

Congress agreed on a budget to fund the government through the rest of the current fiscal year, but they did so by increasing spending nearly across the board, avoiding any hard questions about what to cut to make room for the President’s desired defense increases (or tax cuts), performing some fiscal wizardry to keep the bill from scoring as if it won’t exceed the budget caps previously agreed to by Congress several years ago.

Though the President had urged Congress to make deep cuts to crucial transportation programs immediately this year, Congress responded to what they heard from state and local leaders of all stripes (and many of you!) and did not eliminate the competitive TIGER grant program or the funding that’s paired with local or state dollars to build or expand new public transit service.

“We applaud the appropriators in Congress for listening to the business leaders, local elected officials and advocates from across the country and protecting funding for these programs that are vital to the health and prosperity of their communities,” said T4America Director Adrea Turner. “But we also know that this budget deal was underway before last November’s election and there will be real pressure in the coming months to make these same cuts when Congress considers the 2018 budget later this year.”

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Overall, transportation programs are mostly funded at levels consistent with what’s in the FAST Act, though Congress actually appropriated more ($2.4b) for transit capital construction than was proposed by the FAST Act for this year ($2.3b). They allocated the full $500 million for a ninth round of TIGER grants, though it’s unclear if USDOT will be able to move the process along fast enough to make grant awards this calendar year.

Despite the President’s previous request to completely halt the pipeline of transit construction projects immediately, the bill urges the Federal Transit Administration to keep it moving forward by writing checks for the transit projects that already have grant agreements, and — most importantly — to set aside funding this year for the scores of projects expected to sign grant agreements this year, like planned bus rapid transit projects in Albuquerque, Indianapolis, Everett (WA), and Kansas City, among many others.

This does not mean that the pipeline of transit projects is safe and back to normal — far from it. For the projects without signed grant agreements, they must still obtain them before any funds can be received, and there have been rumors that the Trump Administration would simply stop signing them — whether Congress allocates money for them or not.

Secondly, this budget only covers the rest of the year through September 30. President Trump’s blueprint for the 2018 budget is what made all the headlines a few weeks ago, in which he proposed zeroing out these vital programs. Congress largely avoided the tough questions by making Trump’s requested defense increases but not making other equivalent cuts to pair with them. How will Congress respond during negotiations on the 2018 budget?

We’ll call on you again to hold their feet to the fire then, but for now, we urge you to send all of your representatives a message of thanks for rallying on a bipartisan agreement to protect the transportation funding that local communities depend on.

Congress is expected to pass the bill before the current continuing budget resolution (CR) expires on Friday (May 5.)