The House of Representatives March 25 and the Senate March 27 passed their respective versions of a FY 2016 Budget resolution after hours of debate on amendments and substitute budgets, mostly over non-transportation issues.
The House passed plan included language that would bring spending levels on federal highway and transit projects down to the level of revenues available from current Highway Trust Fund (HTF) receipts after current obligations are met. According to Federal Highway Administration projections, the House budget would lead to a 99 percent cut in new apportioned obligations for states, on average. However, the House budget did include a “reserve fund” that allows spending levels on HTF supported activities to increase incrementally if new revenues are found.
The Senate version includes a reserve fund that would allow for any new revenues directed towards the HTF to be used for increased spending as long as it does not add to the deficit. However, a late amendment offered by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) threatened to complicate the ability for the HTF to bring in new revenues to stave off the impending solvency issues in FY 2016. ARTBA members and staff worked with Senate leaders to successfully dissuade Senator Lee from offering his amendment.
The two houses of Congress will now attempt to conference their budgets together to come up with the first congressional budget agreement since 2009. Regardless of the outcome, it is important to remember that budget resolutions are not signed into law and act only as a guide on how Congress should operate its finances for that fiscal year. Congress can still override its own agreed to budget principles with a simple majority vote in the House and 60 votes in the Senate—the accepted threshold for passing anything through the Senate in recent time due to the threat of a filibuster.