DALLAS – A Senate Appropriations Committee panel quickly adopted a $60 billion fiscal 2018 spending plan on Tuesday that would fully fund popular transportation and housing grant programs that the Trump administration’s budget wanted to eliminate.

The fiscal 2018 spending plan approved by a Senate appropriations panel “does not include proposals in the president’s budget that would have eliminated or made drastic reductions in some of the most effective programs,” said chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
The fiscal 2018 spending plan approved by a Senate appropriations panel “does not include proposals in the president’s budget that would have eliminated or made drastic reductions in some of the most effective programs,” said chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s transportation and housing and urban development panel took less than 15 minutes to approve the fiscal 2018 measure that would provide $550 million next year for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) competitive grant program, an increase of $50 million from fiscal 2017.

It also voted to restore funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program overseen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the $3 billion allocated in fiscal 2017. The full committee is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday.

The president’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal would completely defund both TIGER and CDBG. The House Appropriations Committee adopted a fiscal 2018 measure last week the trimmed CDBG to $2.9 billion while eliminating the stimulus-era TIGER program.

The Senate appropriations panel’s measure would provide the Transportation Department and HUD with $2.4 billion more than in 2017, said chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

“The bill does not include proposals in the president’s budget that would have eliminated or made drastic reductions in some of the most effective programs supported by virtually all the subcommittee members,” Collins said.

In 2017, Collins said, 585 applicants from all 50 states and territories requested nearly $9.3 billion of TIGER grants, “demonstrating the need for and popularity of this program.” Only 40 applicants received the grants, she said.

The panel’s proposal provides $2.13 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program, which would fully fund all current New Starts grants with a signed agreement “as well as those expected to sign grant agreements in fiscal year 2018,” Collins said.

Maryland officials hope to complete the agreement for a $900 million New Starts grant to its $5.6 billion Purple Line light rail system that was derailed by a federal judge just days before a scheduled signing ceremony in August 2016.

House appropriators set total funding for the New Starts grants at $1.75 billion in 2018, down $660 million from fiscal 2017 but $520 million more than requested by the Trump administration.

As with the House committee's bill, the Senate panel’s measure includes the full $45 billion of funding to states for highway projects and $9.7 billion of transit funding in 2015’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

The Senate panel's bill does not include the $900 million set aside in the House committee’s proposal that could be used by the Gateway Project to rebuild the railroad tunnels under the Hudson River that link New York City and New Jersey.

The bill also does not include funding for the privatization of the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control system sought by President Trump and championed by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Collins said the proposal to spin off the air traffic control system to an entity that could issue revenue bonds “appears to be a solution in search of a problem.”

The full text of the legislation will not be released until Thursday, but the American Association of Airport Executives said the bill would allow airports to raise the passenger facility charge, now capped at $4.50 per trip segment, that are used to support revenue bonds for terminals and other facilities.

“The measure … would empower airports to update and upgrade their facilities to better serve the traveling public through a long overdue adjustment to the local passenger facility charge program and an increase in the successful user-funded federal Airport Improvement Program,” said Todd Hauptli, president of the airport association.

Collins said only that "the bill provides opportunities for airports to make much-needed capacity improvements.”

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