On Tuesday morning, the House Committee on Appropriations released the draft Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. This bill is scheduled to be brought before the THUD Subcommittee tomorrow morning for a markup. The measure appropriates discretionary spending totaling $55.3 billion, which is $1.5 billion above FY 2015 level, but $9.7 billion below the President’s budget request. With reduced offsets, however, the bill represents an actual increase of only $25 million above the current level.
For public transportation and highway programs, without an authorizing bill to guide program funding, the bill generally sets spending for trust fund programs at the levels authorized in 2015. Programs funded from the general fund were reduced in most cases, with cuts in the new starts program, transit research, Amtrak funding, and TIGER grants.
Federal Transit Programs
Under the House subcommittee bill, total funding for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would be set $10.726 billion in FY 2016, a cut of $160 million from the $10.887 billion in 2015. Funding for core formula programs would be set at $8.595 billion, the same level provided in FY 2014, as authorized under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). FTA administrative expenses are frozen at $105.93 million, of which $4 million is provided to carry out public transportation safety programs (Sec. 5329) and not less than $750,000 would be provided for a national transit asset management system (Sec. 5326).
The proposal would make significant cuts to transit programs funded with general funds. Capital Investment Grants (New Starts) would be funded at $1.921 billion, nearly $200 million less than last year. According to the appropriations subcommittee press release, the New Starts appropriation will provide “full funding for all current ‘Full Funding Grant Agreement’ (FFGA) transit projects, and an additional $250 million for projects that will enter a FFGA by the end of fiscal year 2016. Also included is $40 million for core capacity projects, and full funding for all state and local ‘Small Starts’ projects that will begin in fiscal year 2016.” Additionally, the proposal includes a general provision limiting the federal share for new full funding grant agreements under New Starts to 50 percent.
Research, Development, Demonstration, and Deployment Projects (Sec. 5312) is funded at $26 million, and Technical Assistance and Training (Sec. 5314) at $3 million. Compared to last year, this would be a cut of $7 million in research programs and $1.5 million in technical assistance and training. The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) (Sec. 5313) appears to receive no appropriations under this proposal. Strong funding for this program continues to be a priority for APTA, as well as increased levels of appropriations in other transit accounts.
Funding available for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is $75 million, half the funding provided in previous years. The proposal also makes these funds contingent on the Secretary certifying “that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is making significant progress in eliminating the material weaknesses, significant deficiencies, and minor control deficiencies identified in the most recent Financial Management Oversight Review.”
Federal Railroad Programs
The House bill appropriates a total of $1.14 billion for Amtrak capital, operating and debt service grants. This total includes $850 million for capital and debt service and $288.5 million for operating grants. Overall, Amtrak funding under the proposal is down by $251 million from last year and $273.5 million below funding included in an authorization bill passed overwhelmingly by the House in March 2015. Additionally, the House appropriations bill provides no funding for capital grants for state-supported intercity passenger rail projects, compared to the House-passed authorization bill that made $300 million available.
For the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan program the bill, again, prohibits the use of federal funds for the credit risk premium on new loans or loan guarantee commitments during 2016.
The bill provides no additional funding for the congressionally mandated implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC).
Other U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Programs
The subcommittee bill provides $100 million for the USDOT TIGER program, $400 million less than what was provided last year. TIGER has been a popular program that supports nationally significant transportation projects in a wide variety of modes, including highways and bridges, public transportation, passenger and freight railroads, and port infrastructure.