WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations issued a continuing resolution that would fund federal government programs from the beginning of fiscal year 2021 on Oct. 1 through Dec. 11, but its fate remains uncertain as the House’s Democratic leadership continues negotiating with the White House.
Key for state departments of transportation is that a proposed extension of current surface transportation funding legislation — the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act — is contained within the continuing resolution for one year, with an additional $13.6 billion added to the Highway Trust Fund.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and 87 organizations had urged Congressional leadership to pass this type of “turn-key” bill in a Sept. 9 letter.
Jim Tymon, AASHTO’s executive director, noted that a one-year extension of current surface transportation funding legislation gives state DOTs the “certainty” needed for planning, letting and building projects through the 2021 construction season.
“Ideally, if this extension can be provided with increased funding, our industry will be able to employ more Americans in the construction sector which, in turn, will bolster market certainty for the transportation industry in 2021, making businesses more likely to hire workers while investing in new equipment and technologies,” he said.
According to an analysis by the AASHTO policy team, the FAST Act extension within the continuing resolution provides:
- Obligation limitation through Dec. 11, estimated to be $9.1 billion for the Federal-aid Highway Program.
- An extension of FAST Act funding and provisions from fiscal year 2020 to all of fiscal year 2021, including contract authority formula apportionments to states.
- A $10.4 billion general fund transfer to the Highway Trust Fund’s Highway Account and a $3.2 billion transfer to the Mass Transit Account.
- A $14 billion general fund transfer to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, making up for the aviation excise tax holiday included in the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in March.
- Suspension of the Rostenkowski fiscal solvency test for the Mass Transit Account for fiscal year 2021. Without suspending that “test” — crafted by the late Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D), who served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in the 1980s — significant reductions in transit obligation funds would occur in fiscal year 2021.
- An increase to the “multimodal cap” within the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant program from $500 million to $600 million.
- An extension of 2017 and 2018 Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program obligation deadlines through Sept. 30, 2021.
While the goal is to get the continuing resolution signed into law by Sept. 30 — the end of the current 2020 federal government fiscal year — providing aid to farmers remains a political stumbling block for the moment.
The short-term duration of the continuing resolution is also an issue, noted AASHTO’s policy team, so it remains to be seen how the final fiscal year 2021 appropriations picture will look by Dec. 11.
As published in The Journal, the official publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), on Sept. 22.