By Dean Franks, senior vice president, congressional relations, ARTBA

The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee May 16 approved legislation that would provide a record of nearly $50 billion in federal highway investment and exceed authorized funding levels for the transit and airport construction programs. Subcommittee Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) authored the bill.

The measure builds on the two-year budget agreement reached in March by the Trump administration and bipartisan congressional leaders to significantly increase domestic and defense discretionary spending in FY 2018 and FY 2019.  The pact enabled the FY 2018 government-wide spending package signed into law March 22 to add close to $5 billion in General Fund supplemental transportation spending.  The FY 2019 House bill adds $4.25 billion from the General Fund for federal highway programs to the $45.27 billion authorized as part of the 2015 FAST Act surface transportation law.

The resulting $49.5 billion in highway investment would be a 14.4 percent increase in two years and a $9 billion increase since 2015 enactment of the FAST Act.

Federal transit and aviation construction programs would also receive increases.  Transit capital programs would see a $310 million addition to the FAST Act approved funding level of $2.3 billion.  This is in contrast to the Trump administration’s FY 2019 budget proposal to zero out funding for this program. Furthermore, the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) current funding level of $3.35 billion would be augmented by an additional $500 million.

The popular TIGER Grant program, a discretionary multimodal program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation and renamed by the Trump administration as BUILD grants, would receive $750 million under the House bill.  This would be a decrease of $750 million from FY 2018 level of $1.5 billion.

This chart details and compares previous years and authorized levels.

The passage of the bill by the subcommittee begins the months-long process to finalize FY 2019 funding for the federal transportation programs.  While both the House and Senate have pledged to pass appropriations bills individually rather than in large packages—as has been the recent norm—chances of most getting through the House and Senate before FY 2019 begins on Oct. 1 are slim.

The supplemental General Fund infrastructure spending in FY 2018 and 2019 is welcome and Congress should be applauded for recognizing increasing investment in the nation’s transportation programs is long overdue. But the March budget agreement does not extend to FY 2020, which means the potential for decreased spending from FY 2019 levels. For example, the FAST Act authorizes $47.1 billion for the highway programs in FY 2020—or $3.2 billion less than the House-proposed FY 2019 level.

This dynamic could add to the uncertainty faced by states as Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenue shortfalls return beginning Oct. 1, 2020.  This situation reinforces the message Transportation Construction Coalition 2018 Fly-In participants delivered this week to Congress: Fix the Highway Trust Fund Now!

ARTBA will continue to push for maximum transportation infrastructure investment as the FY 2019 appropriations process moves forward and remind Capitol Hill and the Trump administration of the urgent need for a permanent HTF fix.