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House & Senate reject president’s request to end all federally supported transit construction

Over the last week, House and Senate committees have both passed transportation budget bills for the upcoming year. While the House made a few cuts, the Senate flatly rejected President Trump’s requests to eliminate the TIGER grant program, halt all new federally supported transit construction, and slash passenger rail service.

After a budget deal was struck in May that avoided most cuts for the rest of this year, negotiations begun on the budget for the 2018 fiscal year which starts this October. This means appropriations committees in both the House and Senate setting funding levels for transportation programs for next year, including the discretionary programs that the Trump administration has targeted for cuts (i.e., those not funded by the Highway Trust Fund.)

In the span of the last week, House and Senate appropriations committees & subcommittees have finalized and voted to approve spending bills for the upcoming year. And while the House did make some cuts, the Senate appropriators unanimously repudiated many of the president’s budget requests for transportation and even made an interesting change when it comes to selecting the best TIGER grant applications.

But first, how does each committee’s bill stack up to what the president requested in his budget outline from earlier this year?

Comparing House & Senate 2018 appropriations

 Enacted 2017 levelsPresident Trump's request for 2018House 2018 AppropriationsSenate 2018 Appropriations
TIGER Grants$500 million$0$0$550 million
Transit Capital Grants$2.4 billion$0$1.75 billion$2.133 billion
Amtrak & passenger rail$1.495 billion$795 million

(All cuts come from eliminating federal funding for all long-distance routes)
$1.4 billion$1.6 billion
TOTAL THUD FUNDING$57.65 billion$47.4 billion$56.5 billion$60.058 billion

Logged-in T4 members can read our House appropriations summary below.

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When it comes to the popular TIGER grant program that the Trump administration had targeted for outright elimination, the Senate actually proposed increasing its funding by $50 million.

And they didn’t stop there.

While the new administration at USDOT had produced their own criteria for how to choose winners for the competitive TIGER grants, the Senate appropriators apparently didn’t approve of them. This language directs USDOT to continue using criteria developed under the last administration to select the winners, the same used for the last eight rounds of TIGER grants. (The Senate Appropriations bill was approved by a bipartisan 31-0 vote, it’s worth noting.)

Though the House did eliminate all funding for TIGER, this is likely unrelated to the president’s request. This has been the norm for the last several years. The House eliminates the funding, the Senate preserves it, and then the Senate number for TIGER has been taken during conference as the House and Senate hammers out the differences. But this doesn’t happen automatically. When/if the appropriations process moves forward, your representatives will need to hear once again your support for TIGER.

Neither House nor Senate appropriators heeded the president’s call to eliminate the federal funding for building shovel-ready transit projects; funding that always gets paired with local or state dollars to make those projects a reality. While the House’s version did make cuts, the Senate provided exactly what’s required to support all of the projects that currently have full-funding grant agreements and are ready to break ground (or are already underway), though the amount is indeed slightly less than the current year’s funding level ($2.13 billion vs $2.4 billion.)

While the House didn’t follow the president’s request to eliminate the program, under no circumstances should a 27 percent cut to transit funding be received as good news.

This cut would result in a handful of transit projects that have local or state dollars already in hand not receiving the full funding they were promised to proceed. And it would delay every other transit project in line behind them waiting for their turn to get a share of this tiny annual amount of federal funding.

We all need to be prepared to continue fighting these cuts to the transit capital grants program. (Get more info on the threats to transit funding here below)

Transit

About that infrastructure package

Lastly, the appropriations bill included some interesting language about President Trump’s so-called $200 billion infrastructure package. Does the Senate Appropriations Committee know anything about it, and do they believe the stated goals are the right ones?

To date, no such proposal has been submitted to the Committee. While the Committee fully supports additional spending for our nation’s infrastructure, it strongly disagrees with the administration’s assertion that providing federal dollars for infrastructure has created, “an unhealthy dynamic in which state and local governments delay projects in the hope of receiving federal funds.” Without federal investment in infrastructure, particularly in our nation’s highway network and transit systems, the ability to move freight across the country and the free movement of people between states with vastly differing abilities to fund infrastructure would be compromised.

The budget process will continue moving forward, though as with the last several years, Congress is not expected to complete any of these individual FY 2018 appropriation bills before the fiscal year begins on October 1. In all likelihood, they’ll once again have to resort to an omnibus budget or continuing resolution to just keep things moving forward without any agreement to be had on the individual bills.