Hearing Analysis: Aligning Federal Surface Transportation Policy to Meet 21st Century Needs
On March 12th, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit convened to discuss prioritizing the reauthorization of highway and transit programs before they expire next year. Regions and local communities require continued federal infrastructure investment to provide regional connectivity and modern mobility through efficient multi-modal systems. For detailed notes, see NARC’s analysis from the hearing.
House Ways and Means Hearing: Our Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure and The Need for Immediate Action
Taking a vital step toward a robust transportation package this Congress, the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday held a hearing to discuss the need for more money to maintain and improve the nation’s infrastructure. The Highway Trust Fund needs immediate cash flow before it runs to zero in 2021. In addition, roads, bridges and highways in poor conditions cost individuals and businesses in measurable financial ways. At the hearing, funding models for investment were discussed in depth as members debated the use of a gas tax, VMT-based fee, and public-private partnerships as tools for creating revenue. The rural-urban divide was also discussed throughout. There were also conversations about creating stronger broadband infrastructure, water systems, disaster resilient communities and affordable housing while also addressing the effects of climate change. For detailed notes, see NARC’s analysis from the hearing.
This week, hundreds of elected, nonprofit, business, and community leaders will host events to advocate one message: “Americans are waiting. The future won’t. It’s #TimeToBuild.” Every day of Infrastructure Week, local, state, and national stakeholders will highlight the projects, technologies, and policies that are necessary to improve our country’s infrastructure. To participate in this week-long event, check out the Infrastructure Week website to see the latest calendar of official events and download graphics you can use to promote the cause on social media. Follow the official conversation on Twitter using #TimeToBuild.
Last Friday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018, which would reauthorize FAA through FY 2023. Attached to the bill are provisions of the bipartisan Disaster Recovery Reform Act previously passed by the House that makes changes to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) policy. The FAA bill does not include FAA air traffic control spinoff provisions. As of yesterday, 40 amendments had been filed. The House is expected to vote on the bill next week. The current reauthorization deadline is September 30, 2018.
The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations subcommittee had its FY 2019 Member Day yesterday. Several members applauded FY 2018 increases and urged the panel to protect infrastructure and housing programs and increase funding for FY 2019. Members also asked for support in their districts on specific issues, such as housing displacement from Louisiana floods and building Interstate 11 to link Las Vegas and Phoenix. Subcommittee Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said he is very happy with the 2018 omnibus and that it will be a firm starting point for 2019.
Since it was founded in 1976, the Washington Metro in the D.C. area has had trouble finding a dedicated funding stream that it could rely on for long-term planning. The organization said that it needs another $500 million of reliable funding per year to fix its aging and failing infrastructure. It appears that lawmakers from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have come closer to earmarking dedicated funds for the transit agency, with each setting their own funding goals and deciding how their jurisdiction would meet it. Within the last few weeks, Virginia lawmakers approved $154 million per year for Metro, Maryland lawmakers set the goal of $167 million per year, and D.C. lawmakers proposed $178.5 million per year.
After months of wrangling, five continuing resolutions, two short-term government shutdowns, and much argument over what funding levels and policy riders should make the final cut, Congress voted and the president signed an omnibus appropriations bill that will keep the federal government funded through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2018.
The $1.3 billion appropriation represents a significant success for our members! Many of NARC’s 2018 legislative and funding priorities received substantially more funding than the president requested and more than was appropriated in fiscal year 2017. Areas that saw significant funding increases include:
- Transportation and infrastructure, including TIGER Grants, AMTRAK funding, and autonomous vehicles;
- Community Development Block Grant (CDBG);
- Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) state workforce formula grants;
- Economic Development Administration (EDA);
- Census Bureau;
- Opioid crisis relief, including funding for prevention, treatment, and law enforcement;
- Rural water and broadband programs;
- Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds;
- Aging programs;
- Low Income and Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP);
- HOME Investment Partnerships Program and other housing assistance programs; and
- Homelessness assistance.
Several policy riders and authorizations were also adopted as part of the omnibus, including:
- Reauthorization of the EPA Brownfields Program, including NARC supported language;
- Reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration is now extended through September; and
- Short-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is extended through the end of July.
For more information, check out our new blog post on the FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill.
Despite the administration’s optimism that Congress can vote on an infrastructure package before the election in November, there are hints that indicate otherwise. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), a key figure in determining whether we see legislation this year, delivered a recent speech in which he indicated that Congress is more likely to pass an “infrastructure package” as a series of smaller bills, including the must-pass FAA Reauthorization and Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). This is not a surprising revelation. There were early indications signaling that Congress could go this way (e.g. calling a series of work otherwise scheduled an infrastructure package), but this was the first time this strategy was publicly acknowledged by congressional leadership.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), who has recently pushed hard for an infrastructure package and an increase in the federal gas tax, acknowledges that a package that garners enough bipartisan support to secure passage is unlikely prior to the election. He believes something can happen in the “lame duck” period after the election, but there are reasons to doubt this outcome as well. Shuster also described the administration’s proposal to pay for a broader infrastructure package with cuts in funding for transit, rail, and TIGER grants as “smoke and mirrors.”
Chairman John Thune (R-SD) sent a similar message concerning the administration’s infrastructure proposal during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing yesterday attended by five cabinet secretaries (Transportation, Commerce, Labor, Agriculture, and Energy). Thune stressed the overwhelming need for a “significant source of revenue” to support their push for a $200 billion investment, a sentiment echoed by several committee senators. The administration would not take a side on the pay-for question, placing everything on the table but not pushing for a specific solution.