DALLAS – A House Appropriations Committee panel approved a draft 2018 transportation spending bill Tuesday night that rejects many of President Trump's proposed cuts.
The bill includes the full $55.4 billion of federal highway and transit funding from 2015’s FAST Act while providing up to $900 million of additional funding for the massive Gateway Project.
The measure was voted on in less than 20 minutes by the Appropriation Committee’s panel on transportation and housing and urban development.
The bill would fund the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants, which the administration wanted to eliminate, at $2.9 billion, $100 million less than fiscal 2017.
Allentown, Pa., mayor Ed Pawlowski said the CDBG program should be funded at $3.3 billion in 2018 during a conference call on Tuesday afternoon organized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“We believe it’s a program that really needs significantly more funding,” he said, noting that the grants totaled $3.9 billion per year in fiscal 2010.
Panel chairman Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said the appropriations measure is a “very good bill” that is not yet in its final form.
"We obviously got the president's budget, we looked at it with great deference and respect. But then we make the decisions,” he told reporters after the vote. “It’s always easier to just ask for more money. It’s a lot more difficult to put together a bill where you have to prioritize, which we’ve done. Are there areas where we’re going to have to revisit? Absolutely.”
The full committee is expected to vote on the bill next week, Diaz-Balart said.
Funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program would drop to $1.75 billion, down $660 million from 2017 but $521 million more than sought by Trump.
The administration’s budget proposal would have funded grants only the 11 transit projects with a signed full funding agreement but the panel’s proposal would provide funds next year for projects that could receive a full funding agreement in 2018.
“We did not agree with administration’s proposal to shut down the Capital Improvement Grant program and instead included funding to keep projects moving through the pipeline,” Diaz-Balart said.
The appropriations measure eliminates the popular, stimulus-era Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary transit grants. TIGER grant funding would drop to zero from $500 million in fiscal 2017.
Rep. David Price, D-N.C., the ranking Democrat on the panel, criticized the zeroing out of the TIGER grants and the cuts in transit grants.
“It seems the [TIGER} program’s only fault, in the view of its critics, is that it was established by President Obama,” Price said. “While simply funding these programs represents a rebuke of the Trump administration, we should not use the draconian Trump budget as a baseline for anything other than a warped vision of America.”
The legislation would provide the Department of Housing and Urban Development a total of $38.3 billion of net discretionary spending, a decrease of $487 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $6.9 billion more than the Trump administration had sought.
The bill includes $45 billion of federal highway aid to states from the Highway Trust Fund, $968 million more than in fiscal 2017 and consistent with the annual allocation in the FAST Act.
Transit formula grants would be funded at $9.7 billion in 2018, again mirroring the FAST Act. The $11.75 billion in spending for the Federal Transit Administration would be $662 million less than in 2017 and $526 million more than requested by President Trump.
The remaining $400 million of transit grants would be available for projects such as Gateway to rebuild rail lines between New Jersey and New York City. Those grants could be combined with more funds under the bill for up to $900 million for the project.
The bill would provide $328 million to Amtrak that is dedicated to infrastructure upgrades in the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston. It also would fund “a state of good repair” rail grant program at $500 million to help address the corridor’s $38 billion maintenance backlog.