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Omnibus Spending Bill for FY-2014 Would Not Fund High Speed Rail

JAN 14, 2014 4:56pm ET
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House and Senate appropriators unveiled a $1.012 trillion bipartisan omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2014 late Monday that would provide funds for transportation and many other programs but not high speed rail.

The bill, which essentially combines 12 appropriations measures, would fund the operation of the federal government through Sept. 30 and is expected to be approved by Congress this week. Lawmakers, determined to avoid another shutdown, are expected to pass a three-day continuing resolution — the current one expires Wednesday — to buy time until the omnibus bill can be enacted.

The omnibus bill is important because it gives state and local governments some certainty from the federal government, said Frank Shafroth, director of the Center for State and Local Government Leadership at George Mason University.

"The bill will provide modest increases in vital funding, which will be especially important for local governments — which were slammed the hardest by the Great Recession — and the last level of government to recover. That will affect the bottom line when state and local governments issue debt," he said.

The bill would provide a total of $17.8 billion of discretionary appropriations for transportation programs. It also would allow $53.5 billion of non-discretionary "obligation funding" for the Transportation Department, according documents released by the appropriations committees.

The legislation would provide almost $41 billion for the federal highway program, consistent with the current transportation law —Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21. It would allow $8.6 billion in state and local transit grants from the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund, also in line with MAP- 21.

Ben Husch, director of the National Conference of State Legislatures' natural resources and infrastructure committee, said that honoring the amounts authorized by MAP-21 is "definitely a very good sign."

Additionally, the bill includes $600 million for the Transportation Department's popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery or TIFIA competitive grant program, $126 million more than was provided the previous year, according to the documents. There are also appropriations for the New Starts and Small Starts grant program which can be used for transit projects.

The legislation includes $3.35 billion in obligation limitation funding for airport construction projects.

But no funds are included for high speed rail, one of President Obama's favored programs.

The bill funds the Community Development Block Grant program at slightly more than $3 billion, $82 million above the fiscal 2013 enacted level. These grants are used for affordable housing, social services and economic development.

"This is a wonderful outcome in that the CDBG program is the most targeted and flexible stream of federal dollars going directly to cities, and it is an invaluable tool that mayors use to take care of their most vulnerable residents, create jobs and leverage private dollars for local economic development and infrastructure projects," said Tom Cochran, chief executive officer and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which has jurisdiction over most muni interest rate swaps, would receive $215 million, $100 million less than what President Obama requested in his budget.

The Internal Revenue Service would get a total of about $11.3 billion, $526 million below the enacted level for the previous year.

The legislation would appropriate $1.35 billion for the Securities and Exchange Commission, $29 million more than the enacted level for fiscal 2013, but $324 million less than President Obama had requested.

The bill would provide $2.5 million for Puerto Rico's State Elections Commission to conduct education about, and a plebiscite on, options to resolve the Commonwealth's future political status.

The omnibus bill does not include full budget autonomy for the District of Columbia, but would allow D.C. to spend its local funds for fiscal 2015 if there's a lapse in federal appropriations. It also would provide $673 million in payments from the federal government to D.C., which is $2.2 million less than the fiscal 2013 enacted level.

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