Failing to provide promised boost to federal transportation funding in 2017 will hobble states, lawmakers warn.

DALLAS -- Three top Democrats on the House Transportation Committee want an increase in federal transportation funding promised to states for fiscal 2017 included in the proposed short-term budget measure under consideration in the lame duck congressional session.

A letter asking for the full funding was sent on Monday to the leaders of House Appropriations Committee by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the highest ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., ranking minority member on the committee's panel on highways and transit, and Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., ranking member of the subcommittee on railroads.

The funding for fiscal 2017 in the five-year Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act included increases of $1.85 billion for highways, $432 million for public transit, and $85 million for highway safety from 2016, the trio said in a letter to the House Appropriations Committee on Monday.

"These infrastructure investment increases are guaranteed by the Highway Trust Fund and fully paid for under the FAST Act," the Democrats said in the letter. "Failure to provide FAST Act funding levels under the continuing resolution will unnecessarily withhold $2.4 billion from states, local governments, and public transit agencies, and prevent them from making timely surface transportation investments, letting contracts, and creating good-paying jobs."

State transportation departments are making plans now for projects next year and need the assurance that the promised funding will be provided, they said.

"The time to provide FAST Act funding levels is now, not at the end of March 2017, when the spring construction season will already be underway across the country," the letter said.

The FAST Act promised $44 billion of federal highway funding to states in fiscal 2017, up from $43.1 billion in 2016, and $12 billion of transit funding, up from $11.8 billion in 2016.

Federal transportation funding has been continued at 2016 levels since Congress adopted a 10-week continuing budget resolution in September to keep the government functioning until Dec. 9.

Republican leaders in Congress said after the Nov. 8 election that they intend to extend the continuing resolution until March 31 to give President-elect Donald Trump the opportunity to submit a fiscal 2017 budget plan.

The proposal to delay the FAST Act's increased funding was criticized in September by directors of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the Associated General Contractors of America. Putting off a fiscal 2017 appropriations bill until spring "would needlessly delay critical highway and public transportation investment increases and renew uncertainty about future federal aid funding," the groups' joint committee said in a release on Sept. 18.

Trump's plan, which relies on $138 billion of federal tax credits to prompt up to $1 trillion of infrastructure spending without raising taxes, could gain support from Democrats in Congress, according to Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

"There's a compromise here, there's a solution that will have equal parts public and private investment," Murphy said Monday during a labor rally at a highway work zone. "If that's on the table, you'll have Republicans and Democrats rushing to President-elect Trump's side to try to get an infrastructure bill done."

Murphy said he is concerned that the Trump plan focuses only on transportation projects that have a revenue stream.

"We will be there to work with him if he's sincere in wanting to put people to work building roads and bridges," Murphy said. "We won't be there for him if this is simply a scheme to make Wall Street rich. You cannot toll your way to economic prosperity."

Speaking at the same rally, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the Trump infrastructure plan would benefit the economy only if it results in new projects.

"There's danger in the details, danger that these projects will be a Trojan Horse for tax breaks and giveaways to investors who simply get credits to do projects we're already doing," Blumenthal said.

Subscribe Now

Independent and authoritative analysis and perspective for the bond buying industry.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.