Surface Transportation Authorization – Congressional Leaders Prepare Short-term Extension Through July; Key Negotiators Continue to Seek Offsets for Extension Through End of 2015
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) began a procedural motion to make it easier for the Senate to consider a clean two-month transportation policy extension next week. Republican leadership in both the Senate and House maintain that an extension to the end of the year is their preference. That end-of-year extension is estimated to cost between $10 and $11 billion.
McConnell’s motion signals that an agreement on a year-end patch may not be achieved by the May 31 deadline, and that he is preserving the option of a clean policy extension to July 31 to prevent expiration of Highway Trust Fund authority. Both the Senate and the House are scheduled to be in recess the final week of May, increasing the urgency of this issue. Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have said they are planning to mark up a long-term authorization bill in June.
House leaders also indicated today that they will move a two-month extension of Transit and Highway spending authority through the House next week, as efforts to negotiate a package of offsets for an end-of-year extension are expected to continue through the weekend, but did not appear close to resolution.
Language posted on the House Rules Committee website this afternoon is similar to that introduced in the Senate yesterday as S. 1350 by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). The bill, H.R. 2353, introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) should be on the House floor early next week, and would extend transit and highway spending authority through the end of July.
According to the most recent estimates from the Department of Transportation, the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund will still have $1.6 billion and the Highway Account will still have about $3.6 billion in cash on hand as of July 31. Absent additional action by Congress to address the Trust Fund balance (through transfers or additional revenues), the Mass Transit Account is projected to hit a zero balance sometime in late September or early October, and the Highway Account reaching a zero balance sometime in late August.
House Appropriations Committee Passes Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Bill
On Wednesday morning, the full House Committee on Appropriations held a markup for the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill for FY 2016. During the hearing, Representatives of both parties made reference to the constraints placed on the Committee due to the budget caps set by the Budget Control Act, and the problems that this posed. Full Committee Chairman Rogers (R-KY) had provided the subcommittee with an allocation of funding $1.5 billion above fiscal year 2015 and $9.7 billion below the President’s budget request. However, given reduced revenue offsets – primarily caused by a $1.1 billion decline in Federal Housing Administration receipts – the bill actually represents an increase of only $25 million above the current level. In other words, despite the increased allocation, the downward pressure on domestic discretionary (ie., General Fund) spending levels as reflected in the Budget Control Act has placed the Appropriations Committee in the position of continuing to cut important spending priorities. APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy expressed concern over this trend in a letter to Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY)
following release of the draft bill during Subcommittee consideration.
Another topic discussed vigorously was the Amtrak accident that had occurred the night before, and the implications of this legislation on infrastructure funding, safety funding and the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC). The bill passed out of the Committee by a vote of 30-21. For more information on the bill they were marking up, you can view our previous Legislative Alert here
. To view the markup in its entirety or to review related documents, please visit the Committee website here
During the markup, several amendments were offered that addressed aspects of the Department of Transportation section of the bill.
Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Chairman of the THUD Subcommittee, first offered a Manager’s amendment, which made a number of corrections to various parts of the bill. The Manager’s amendment also included report language directing the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to provide within 180 days an update on its efforts to engage stakeholders in the southeast to develop a multi-state planning process for improving the intercity passenger rail network. Additional report language directs the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to provide a report within 180 days on how the new core capacity program could address both increased ridership and constrained infrastructure challenges, particularly in legacy heavy rail systems, and it also included language directing the Washington Metro Transit Authority (WMATA) to continue addressing safety issues identified by the National Transportation Safety Board and to implement any and all corrective actions to address financial, contracting and accounting concerns raised by FTA’s financial management oversight audit.
Another amendment offered by Ranking Member Lowey, increased the set aside for Highway Rail Grade Crossings within the deral Highway Administration Highway Formula by $130 million. This brought funding for the program from $220 million to $350 million and was adopted by voice vote.
The final amendment that passed was offered by Representative Scott Rigell (R-VA), which increased funds for WMATA by $25 million. This increase was offset by a $22 million cut from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and a $3 million cut to the FTA administrative account. This brought their funding level to $100 million, still $50 million lower than they have been previously funded. THUD Subcommittee Ranking Member David Price (D-NC) noted that he had concerns about reductions to the FAA and FTA. The amendment was adopted by a voice vote.
Amendments Not Adopted
Several amendments were also offered but not adopted.
An amendment was offered by Representative Price that would have increased spending levels above the budget caps to the President’s request. He noted that the budgetary levels that the Committee was subject to were unrealistic, and that Congress should begin the appropriations process by offering the funding levels needed, rather than arbitrary top-line numbers. This amendment was defeated by a roll call vote of 21-29.
Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA) offered an amendment that would have increased Amtrak capital funds by $1.311 billion to the President’s request level. During the debate for this amendment, Representative Diaz-Balart and Chairman Rogers (R-KY) stated that if the bill were to go to the floor with appropriations above the budget cap levels, there would be a point of order on the floor, killing the entire bill. This amendment was also defeated by a roll call vote of 21-30.
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) also offered an amendment appropriating an additional $825 million for PTC with no offsets. This amendment was defeated by a roll call vote of 21-29.
APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy Participates in Transportation Panel
On Thursday, as part of a session tied to National Infrastructure Week, APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy participated in a panel hosted by Squire Patton Boggs titled “Long-Term Transportation Funding: Critical to Competitiveness in a Global Marketplace.” In his remarks, Melaniphy stressed the necessity for federal partnership in transportation funding, citing the growing ridership numbers, development benefits to communities with public transportation, as well as the overwhelming support for investment in ballot initiatives around the country. In addition, Melaniphy spoke about the success of “Stand Up for Transportation Day” and Congressional participation in events in their districts.
The other participants in the session included:
- Moderator: Senator Trent Lott, Former Senate Majority Leader (R-MS), Squire Patton Boggs
- Greg Cohen, President & CEO, American Highway Users Alliance (AHUA)
- Regina Hopper, President & CEO, Intelligent Transportation Society of America
- Representative Jim Matheson, Former Congressman (D-UT), Squire Patton Boggs
- Victor Mendez, Deputy Secretary of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation
- Michelle Moore, Senior Fellow, The Council on Competitiveness
APTA Hosts Briefing on Transit's High-Value in the Knowledge Economy
Also as part of National Infrastructure week, APTA, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Regional Councils co-sponsored a Capitol Hill event to discuss transit’s high-value in the “Knowledge Economy.” Linda Watson, President & CEO of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin, TX talked about the appeal of transit and its emerging role with high-tech industries. Also participating were Alderman Robert Bauman of Milwaukee, WI, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair, National League of Cities; Joanna Turner, Executive Director, National Association of Regional Councils; and Shyam Kannan of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.