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After years of trying to slash funding, the House proposes solid funding for next round of TIGER grants

After several years of consistently trying to cut or outright eliminate the program’s funding entirely, House appropriators last week approved $450 million for competitive TIGER grants within the annual budget bill for all transportation and housing programs.

Perhaps the House got the message delivered back in March?

Over 170 elected officials and local, civic and business leaders from 45 U.S. states today sent a letter to congressional appropriators urging them to provide at least $500 million for another round of TIGER competitive transportation grants as well as the full amount authorized in last year’s FAST Act for new transit construction. As Congress begins to craft the transportation budget for the 2017 fiscal year, the 170-plus local leaders of all stripes, representing an incredible diversity of places, sent a powerful message that opportunities provided by TIGER and FTA’s New Starts program are crucial to their long-term success.

While they fell short of the mark set in this year’s Senate spending bill of $525 million, the House seems to be coming around on TIGER, which is terrific news.

Overall, the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) bill would provide $19.2 billion for the discretionary programs that include TIGER grants, New Starts transit construction and Amtrak, which on the whole, represents an increase of $540 million compared to the current year. Though it would provide $75 million less than the Senate’s funding level for TIGER grants, at $450 million, it represents a big change from just three years ago when the proposed House THUD bill contained zero funding for TIGER. And at least once, the House tried to restrict TIGER funding only to highway projects, leaving the huge number of smart multimodal projects that normally apply out in the cold.

The New Starts transit construction program would receive a significant boost at $2.5 billion total, which is $160 million more than what’s called for by the FAST Act and $320 million more than last year.

What’s the TIGER program?

The fiercely competitive TIGER program is one of the few ways that local communities of almost any size can directly receive federal dollars for their priority transportation projects, and represents one of the most fiscally responsible transportation programs administered by USDOT.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of all federal transportation dollars that are awarded via formulas to ensure that all states or metro areas get a share, regardless of how they’re going to spend those dollars, the federal government has found a smart way to use a small amount of money to incentivize the best projects possible through TIGER. Projects vying for funding compete against each other on their merits to ensure that each dollar is spent in the most effective way possible.  It’s a roadmap to a more efficient way to spend transportation dollars that spurs innovation, stretches federal transportation dollars further than in conventional formula programs, and awards funding to projects that provide a high-return on investment.

Why isn’t the funding guaranteed by the FAST Act?

TIGER, in addition to Amtrak funding and the program used for almost all new transit expansion, are not guaranteed funding each year from the highway trust fund. Unlike federal highway and transit formula programs, these programs have to go before appropriators in Congress each year who decide how much to give each program, resulting in this same debate nearly every year. (An attempt to provide dedicated annual funding for TIGER in the FAST Act failed during negotiations over that bill.)

While this House budget is indeed good news, just like the Senate’s version passed several weeks ago, it could face a shaky path forward. President Obama issued a veto threat to the Senate bill due to the potential for “problematic ideological provisions” included in the bill, including a Senate provision to relax hours-of-service rules for truckers that the House also includes similar language on.

Though it’s unlikely that the House and Senate will complete this budget bill before the October 1 deadline, as in past years, the content of the House and Senate transportation funding bills are incredibly important. They form the starting point for the debate and will likely be consolidated at some point early in the upcoming fiscal year.

Read more about a policy provision also included in this House budget, which instructs USDOT to begin measuring how transportation investments will connect all Americans to opportunity and essential daily needs such as jobs, schools, healthcare, food and others.

House transportation spending bill takes unprecedented steps to increase access to opportunity for all Americans