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

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao March 27 defended the Trump administration’s FY 2020 budget request before the Senate Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Subcommittee. She also discussed with senators the need to address the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), surface transportation law reauthorization, and the prospects of a robust infrastructure package.

On the HTF, Chao echoed the administration’s March 11 budget proposal, which called for working with Congress to find a solution but did not indicate a preference for a specific user fee or other mechanism to close the $19 billion per year gap between revenues and projected spending levels.

Chao signaled to the committee that it may make more sense to combine reauthorization of the FAST Act surface transportation law, due next year, and a broader infrastructure package. This is a component of the administration’s budget and also has been echoed in GOP circles on Capitol Hill.

Chao also told Senators that any infrastructure or reauthorization bill would need to be completed before the August congressional recess. While she did not specify reasons for this, that timeline is consistent with conventional wisdom that the 2020 presidential election will hamper chances for a grand bipartisan bill.

ARTBA will continue advocating for FY 2020 spending levels at FAST Act levels for core highway and transit programs as well as additional spending for infrastructure as the budget process allows.