Posts Tagged ‘Highway Trust Fund’

More Details About Bill That Extends FAST Act, Enacts Stopgap Federal Funding for FY2021

September 25, 2020

As reported earlier, the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act will extend the Fixing America’s Transportation Act for another year and keep federal funding flowing through Dec. 11.

The bill, which was approved by a large margin in the House and is expected to receive Senate approval and be signed by President Trump, had a few items of substance for intercity rail passenger service but excluded much of what many rail passenger advocates wanted.

By extending the surface transportation authorization for a year, it ensured that Amtrak and public transit, not to mention highway construction funding, would continue.

Amtrak is expected to receive through December a prorated share of what it was appropriated in fiscal year 2020.

That means $138 million for the Northeast Corridor and $256.4 million for the national network.

The bill also eliminates a requirement that Amtrak food and beverage service make a profit.

The so-called “Mica Provision” was a legacy of former House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair John Mica who often railed against the cost of Amtrak’s food and beverage service.

However, Amtrak’s plans to reduce the operation of most long-distance trains to three times a week are not expected to be halted by the legislation.

The Rail Passengers Association wrote on its website that passenger rail largely was shut out by the bill, which it described as protecting the status quo.

The legislation also transfers $3.2 billion in general funds to the Mass Transit Account, which ensure the Federal Transit Agency will be able to process grants to transit agencies.

It also halted a $6 billion across-the-board cut of transit formula funds by eliminating the Rostenkowski Test in FY2021.

But RPA noted that extending the existing FAST Act for a year means there will not be a dedicated passenger rail trust fund and that authorizations for Amtrak funding for FY2021 remain at FY2020 levels.

RPA noted that without higher authorizations it would be unlikely that Amtrak would receive the $5 billion in funding for FY2021 that it sought.

That is the amount the passenger carrier said it needed to continue operating most long-distance trains on daily schedules.

Amtrak’s original funding request for FY2021 had been just over $2 billion.

In its post, RPA said the legislation failed to resolve any of the questions raised by Amtrak’s plan for tri-weekly service and made no changes to the service return metrics that Amtrak has established for a return to daily service next year.

The legislation also transfers $10.4 billion in general funds to the Highway Trust Fund and transfers $14 billion in general funds to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

Amtrak’s FY2021 funding will be hammered out later this year, probably in the lame duck session of Congress after the November elections.

Draft Transportation Bill Likely Before Summer

January 12, 2020

A draft surface transportation bill is expected to be released by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure before summer but not this month as reported earlier.

Committee Chair Peter DeFazio said the committee would “release more specifics in the not-too-distant future.” He did not elaborate on when that would be.

The current law that authorizes spending on highways, transit, and passenger rail programs expires on Sept. 30.

“This is like the beginning of the beginning of the year,” DeFazio said. “We’re talking about the middle of the beginning of the year. That’s earlier than June but later than January.”

In the meantime the Senate Finance Committee has been considering its own surface transportation legislation and has found finding new revenue to be a struggle.

A draft highway reauthorization bill the committee is considering calls for spending $287 billion on highways but stagnant revenue in the Highway Trust Fund means the committee is $113 billion short of paying for the proposed authorization.

Legislation in the Senate reauthorizing public transit and passenger rail is not expected to be drafted until later this year.

Shuster Releases Infrastructure Plan

July 25, 2018

The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has introduced an infrastructure plan that would be paid for in part by an increase in fuel taxes.

Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) said his plan would result in significant federal investment in infrastructure projects and grant programs at least through 2021 and also bolster the sagging Highway Trust Fund.

The plan would raise federal user fees on gasoline and diesel fuel by 15 cents per gallon and 20 cents per gallon, respectively with the tax hikes are phased in over three years.

Once the phase-in is completed, the user fees would be indexed to inflation, then zeroed out in 2028.

As a way of reforming the Highway Trust Fund, Shuster wants to see the creation of a panel of experts to study and recommend solutions to ensure the fund’s long-term solvency.

Shuster’s plan also would establish a national, voluntary pilot program to test the viability of replacing current HTF user fees with a per-mile user fee.

Legislation reflecting the plan will be introduced in the coming weeks and months.

Shuster said he developed his proposal in consultation with members of both major political parties.

“This discussion draft does not represent a complete and final infrastructure bill,” Shuster said in a statement. “It is meant to reignite discussions amongst my colleagues.

Trump Infrastructure Plan Already Flagging in Congress

March 13, 2018

President Trump has had his say and now Congress is responding to his infrastructure plan. The early returns do not look promising.

Last week, Senate Democrats put forth a $1-trillion infrastructure plan that would, among other things, allocate $180 billion over the next decade to expand and rehabilitate rail and bus systems.

That might sound like music to the ears of rail passenger and public transportation proponents, but the Democrats are the minority party in the Senate and face an uphill battle to take control of that chamber in the November elections.

Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, has his own idea of how Congress should deal with the Trump infrastructure proposal.

He expects Congress to pass several piecemeal bills that will address infrastructure.

Committees dealing with aviation, water and energy are likely to begin drafting their own infrastructure proposals this spring with votes not likely before the summer.

Ryan’s comments are being interpreted by some political observers as a setback for the Trump plan.

The speaker also doused the idea of increasing the federal gasoline tax, a move that had been supported by Republican and Democratic members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The 18.4 cent a gallon tax goes into the Highway Trust Fund and was last increased in 1993. In recent years the revenue flowing from the tax has considerably eroded.

Ryan said raising the gas tax would undo the benefit of the tax cuts that he helped shepherd through Congress late last year.

The Trump administration infrastructure plan does not call for a gas tax increase, but some lawmakers say Trump suggested in a meeting at the White House last month raising the tax to 25 cents per gallon.

The Hill, a website that covers the federal government, reported recently that enthusiasm among Republicans for Trump’s infrastructure program has been lackluster.

Ryan suggested that infrastructure could be addressed in a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, in a must pass omnibus budget bill that has a March 23 deadline, and in the Water Resources Development Act, which Congress must renew every two years.

The omnibus budget bill would represent what Ryan termed a “down payment” on an infrastructure plan.

Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who heads the House Transportation Committee, continues to push for a larger infrastructure bill and has spoken about working with Democrats on the committee to win approval of a package to fund roads, bridges, transit systems, airports and other public works.

Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, acknowledged that opposition to an increase in the gasoline tax presents a challenge to those who want an infrastructure plan.

“Well, it probably means that a big robust infrastructure plan is going to be hard to do if there’s not the money to do it. But I think there are things we can do in the context of an infrastructure bill with some amount of funding,” Thune said.

Trump Infrastructure Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

February 14, 2018

The Trump Administration’s proposed infrastructure plan has been released to mixed reviews from the transportation sector.

A qualified positive review came from the Association of American Railroads, which called the plan a start in a discussion about infrastructure needs.

In a prepared statement, AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger said the trade organization “particularly welcomes the efforts to streamline the federal permitting processes, including in the proposal’s attempt to codify executive orders into law while also strengthening existing processes.”

However, the American Public Transportation Association expressed concern about proposed “deep cuts” in federal programs that fund public transit infrastructure.

“The $200 billion proposed by the administration for infrastructure would be paid for by cutting funding for critical public transportation infrastructure programs, including the Capital Improvement Grants, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, and Amtrak in the fiscal-year 2019 budget,” APTA said in a statement. “This would be a big mistake and counterproductive to fostering prosperous communities.”

APTA did commend the administration’s commitment to strengthening American infrastructure.

President Trump has proposed that states and local communities match federal funds they receive to implement infrastructure improvement projects. It is also seeking to encourage private-sector investors in public works projects.

The plan would expand the use of tax-exempt debt, allow states to add tolls on interstate highways, and make it easier to lease airports and other public assets.

The AAR said a key component of any infrastructure plan needs to be a long-term solution to shoring up the Highway Trust Fund.

It noted that such a proposal was not included in Trump’s infrastructure plan.

“Policymakers should make every effort to return surface transportation funding to a truly equitable, user-pay system as originally designed,” Hamberger said.

APTA said it will work toward a bipartisan solution that continues and expands the “historic federal support” that’s necessary to address public transit needs, including a $90 billion backlog of the transit industry’s state-of-good repair needs.

“Funding public transportation projects is aligned with the administration’s focus on funding major transformative projects, supporting rural communities, streamlining the federal permitting and approval processes, and investing in a high-skilled, competitive workforce,” APTA said. “We are encouraged by specific provisions in the proposal related to public transportation, including streamlining, preserving and expanding the CIG pilot program and eliminating constraints on private-public partnerships.”