As we review the limited legislative calendar for the year ahead in Washington, with both Houses of Congress scheduled to leave before the elections in early October, leaders in both chambers are focused largely on completing the appropriations bills needed to fund the government after the start of the Fiscal Year (FY) on October 1, 2016.
Prospects for action on a major tax bills or other significant legislation remains challenging. Between the partisan politics that is already influencing the Supreme Court nominating process, and the limited number of legislative days, with both parties holding presidential nominating conventions in late July, and a full August recess between now and the October break, Congress will need to address must-pass legislation like the funding bills.
The administration, in contrast, will dedicate its energy to implementing the recently enacted Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, and completing implementation activities under the earlier MAP-21 bill. This update attempts to provide an overview of both congressional and regulatory agendas for the balance of the year.
Fiscal Year 2017 Budget and Appropriations
Congress has now begun the process of funding federal programs for FY 2017. While there are ongoing efforts to advance an FY 2017 Budget Resolution, which would require action on and approval of a concurrent resolution by both the House of Representatives and Senate, it is also possible that neither chamber will adopt a budget resolution, and the respective House and Senate Appropriations Committees will go ahead and provide funding allocations to individual appropriations subcommittees after April 15 that will serve as the basis for their development of the separate appropriations bills. Absent a new budget resolution, the subcommittee allocations will be based on the two-year budget agreement for FY 2016 and 2017 that was struck by President Obama and Speaker Boehner (as one of his final acts as Speaker). That agreement deferred across-the-board cuts that would otherwise be applied to total federal spending in FY 2016 and 2017 under the "sequestration" process adopted by an earlier Congress.
On March 16, the House Budget Committee approved a draft budget blueprint for FY 2017 spending. Consistent with the two-year budget deal struck between President Obama and Speaker Boehner, the budget approved by the committee sets the total spending allocation for the Appropriations Committee at $1.070 trillion for FY 2017, which is $30 billion more than the levels that would be allowed under the "sequestration" process. A similar measure was passed in the previous Congress known as the Ryan-Murray Budget, which raised the spending caps by $45 billion for the life of the bill.
While the most important parts of a budget resolution for public transportation are the broad funding targets that ultimately influence spending allocations to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD), the congressional budget resolution also includes proposed policies that do not have the force of law, but are proposed legislative changes that could be used to achieve those top-line funding objectives. The House Budget Committee included a number of nonbinding proposals that would adversely impact public transportation programs, including proposals to phase out funding for the New Starts program, prohibit funding for high-speed passenger rail projects, condition federal funding for WMATA, and eliminate both TIGER grants and operating subsidies for Amtrak. The resolution, if adopted by both chambers as is, would also require the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to produce savings of $100 million over ten years.
As the appropriations subcommittees begin the process of developing FY 2017 spending bills, APTA has sent a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging Congress to make robust investments in public transportation programs. To view the House letter click here, and to view the Senate letter click here. Additionally, APTA will submit testimony to the appropriations subcommittee for the Department of Homeland Security in both chambers.
Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) Announcements
On Tuesday, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued several Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) announcements that are applicable to APTA members. The announcements for the Bus and Bus Facilities Program, and for Innovative Coordinated Access were authorized under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST) Act. The FAST Act also included the first ever "Innovation" title that supports many Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) programs, and DOT announced NOFOs for Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment (ATCMTD) and grants to states to demonstrate user-based alternative revenue mechanisms.
First, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced the availability of approximately $211 million of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 funds for the Section 5339(b) Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Competitive Grant Program (Bus Program), and approximately $55 million for 5339(c) Low or No Emission Bus Competitive Grant Program (Low-No Program). Funds awarded for the Bus Program can be used to finance capital projects to replace, rehabilitate, purchase or lease buses and related equipment and to rehabilitate, purchase, construct or lease bus-related facilities, including programs of bus and bus-related projects for sub-recipients that are public agencies, private companies engaged in public transportation, or private non-profit organizations.
Funds awarded for the Low-No Program will finance the purchase or lease of low or no emission vehicles that use advanced technologies, including related equipment or facilities, for transit revenue operations. Projects may include costs incidental to the acquisition of buses or to the construction of facilities, such as the costs of related workforce development and training activities, and project development. FTA may award additional funding that is made available to the program prior to the announcement of project selections. The deadline for this opportunity is May 13, 2016. To view the entire notice in the Federal Register, please click here.
Second, the FTA announced the availability of approximately $5.3 million of funding from two programs to support the Rides to Wellness Demonstration and Innovative Coordinated Access and Mobility Grants (R2W Demonstration Grants). The funding sources are: Section 3006(b) of the FAST Act which authorizes a pilot program for innovative coordinated access and mobility; and 49 U.S.C. 5312 (Public Transportation Innovation research program). The deadline for this opportunity is May 31, 2016. To view the entire notice in the Federal Register, please click here.
Third, the FAST Act directs the DOT to establish an advanced transportation and congestion management technologies deployment (ATCMTD) initiative. The initiative provides grants to develop model deployment sites for large scale installation and operation of advanced transportation technologies to improve safety, efficiency, system performance, and infrastructure return on investment. The ATCMTD program is funded annually at $60 million from amounts authorized under sections 6002(a)(1), 6002(a)(2), and 6002(a)(4) of the FAST Act. This notice is the first of annual solicitations for the ATCMTD program and seeks applications from eligible entities to establish the initial set of model technology deployment sites. The DOT intends for these model technology deployments to help demonstrate how emerging transportation technologies, data, and their applications, which also link to Beyond Traffic 2045, can be effectively deployed and integrated with existing systems to provide access to essential services and other destinations. This also includes efforts to increase connectivity to employment, education, services and other opportunities; support workforce development; and contribute to community revitalization, particularly for disadvantaged groups (e.g., low income groups, persons with visible or hidden disabilities, elderly individuals, and minority populations). The DOT will make no fewer than five and no more than 10 awards of up to $12 million each depending on the number of awards and amounts set aside for DOT administrative expenses. The deadline for this opportunity is May 20, 2016. To view the entire notice in the Federal Register, please click here.
Lastly, section 6020 of the FAST Act directs the DOT to establish the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives (STSFA) program to provide grants to States to demonstrate user-based alternative revenue mechanisms that utilize a user fee structure to maintain the long-term solvency of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Section 6020 provides $15 million for fiscal year (FY) 2016 and $20 million for each of FYs 2017–2020 out of funds set aside in section 6002(a)(1), which authorizes funds for the Highway Research and Development Program. These grants shall make up no more than 50 percent of total proposed project costs, with the remainder coming from non-Federal sources. This Notice of Funding Opportunity for the STSFA program seeks applications from States or groups of States. The deadline for this opportunity is May 20, 2016. To view the entire notice in the Federal Register, please click here