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AASHTO Journal

Panel Sends USDOT Bill to House With Cuts, After Challenge on Infrastructure

​​The full House Appropriations Committee on July 17 approved a fiscal 2018 transportation funding bill that would make cuts in transit assistance and end the popular TIGER grants, after brushing aside a push by minority Democrats to add an infrastructure investment package.

T​​he bill adheres to 2018 spending levels for Highway Trust Fund programs as called for in the FAST Act. However, the bill also proposes to rescind another $800 million of authorized highway funds from state transportation departments in November, which would follow a similar $857 million rescission that took effect June 30.

Compared with the president’s budget proposal from May, the House measure concurs with elimination of TIGER grants, makes a smaller cut in transit capital investment assistance, and rejects the president's proposed phase-out of Essential Air Service that subsidizes commercial air travel to rural airports.

The committee in a 31-20 vote – with one Democrat joining the Republican majority – advanced the bill that had cleared a subcommittee​ a week earlier, with only minor changes.

Though it now advances it to the full House for consideration, as lawmakers are reportedly planning to prioritize defense-related spending bills into a minibus measure the House could possibly pass before an August recess. The Senate has yet to take up a funding bill for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

NV_001.JPGAfter the committee vote, Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., sai​d:​ "Now more than ever, it is critical to our economy and to our quality of life to have safe and well-functioning transportation infrastructure. This bill makes investments in essential highway, air, rail, and maritime programs that will keep our people and our goods moving efficiently." 

But committee Democrats said in a critical statement that the bill "breaks repeated promises from the [Trump] administration and the majority to invest in our nation's infrastructure." 

They said zeroing out an annual $500 million in the USDOT's TIGER grants and cutting $659 million from capital grants for new transit projects, along with other provisions, "will eliminate jobs and hurt communities around the country. We should be investing more – not less – in job creation and community development."​

But the committee majority rejected a proposed amendment by Rep. David Price, D-N.C., to add $200 billion in project investments, which would match the same dollar amount President Trump has proposed in direct federal infrastructure spending over 10 years.

News reports described the Price amendment as largely a messaging effort designed to highlight the lack of progress so far on the Trump plan. 

In introducing his proposal, Price said: "If there is one area that should garner broad bipartisan support it would be an infrastructure package that would tangibly improve the lives of each of our constituents." He added that the committee bill "is not up to the task of building the infrastructure our country needs and deserves. Adopting my amendment would be a good start to restoring and repairing the infrastructure that we all depend on."

The committee action followed a July 13 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office that said Trump's proposed budget cuts would largely offset any benefits of his infrastructure plan. 

While it awaits details of the president's still-to-come investment package, the CBO said that "when considering the entire set of proposals in the budget, though, overall spending on infrastructure would not increase by $200 billion. The president's proposals for discretionary spending would reduce appropriations for other accounts that provide funding for infrastructure, such as those for ground transportation and water resources."

It concluded: "Those reductions would largely offset the proposed increase in mandatory spending on infrastructure over the 2018–2027 period."

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