A U.S. House subcommittee has approved an appropriations bill that would slash funding from programs that support public infrastructure projects as part of an effort to cut federal transportation and housing spending by $7.7 billion.
The House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation and housing and urban development passed a $44 billion appropriations bill by a voice vote on Thursday. The bill represents a 15% cut from fiscal year 2013 and eliminates funding from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER program. It also includes cuts to federal spending for public transit and public housing.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, praised the legislation’s passage as a bipartisan move towards responsible deficit reduction, although Democrats objected to the cuts.
“This appropriations process has continued to show that we can act in a bipartisan fashion to fund our most vital programs with the need to reduce the deficit in mind,” Latham said.
Republicans have repeatedly attempted to eliminate funding for the TIGER program, which provides grants on a competitive basis for state and local governments seeking to develop surface transportation projects of regional or national significance. TIGER grants often augment bond financing. The program has been enormously popular since it began as part of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus initiatives in 2009. The Department of Transportation announced earlier this month that it had received requests totaling $9 billion in TIGER grants, though only $474 million was available after a sequestration-reduced $500 million was appropriated last year.
The bill also attempts to eliminate more than $200 million of unallocated TIGER funding that was already approved, but neither that measure nor the total funding elimination is likely to be as warmly received in the Democrat-controlled Senate, even if it is approved by the full committee and House.
New Starts, a federal transit funding program for rail transit, would take a 2% haircut under the legislation, while the Federal Transit Administration itself would suffer a $329.7 million reduction from last year.
High-speed rail would get no federal funding under the bill. A multi-billion dollar bond-funded high-speed rail project in California has taken flack from congressional Republicans, despite staunch support from the White House and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood.
The bill would preserve highway spending approved in last year’s surface transportation spending bill, upping the money flowing into the federal Highway Trust Fund by more than $500 million despite a $2.6 billion cut for DOT as a whole. That highway money secures billions of dollars of grant anticipation revenue or Garvee bonds, which rating agencies have kept a wary eye on due to increased skepticism that lawmakers would continue to keep the cash flowing.
A spokesman for the American Road and Transportation Builders Alliance said the group was pleased that highway funds remain in place under the bill.
“We’ve been hearing from states that they need certainty, and this hopefully provides a sense of certainty for the next year,” she said.
The bill includes $28.5 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a 15% cut from fiscal year 2013.
Full House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said the bill was a necessary compromise.
“This bill is an example of the current budgetary trade-offs facing our nation,” he said.