According to NSSGA, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development held a hearing on June 13 to discuss FY’14 funding levels for transportation infrastructure. This hearing is a precursor to the subcommittee’s markup targeted for June 25 with full committee markup slated for June 27.
During the June 13 hearing, subcommittee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) launched an attack with her opening statement against those who believe that federal transportation infrastructure investment spending must be curbed in the current environment of tight budgets. She vigorously defended federal spending in the critical area of transportation, citing the recent I-5 bridge collapse over the Skagit River in her home state as an example of why investment must continue in order to avoid more catastrophic failures around the country. She called for renewed bipartisanship in meeting the spending needs for smart infrastructure investment.
Testifying before the subcommittee were Phillip Herr, director, Physical Infrastructure Issues, Government Accountability Office, and Polly Trottenberg, undersecretary for Policy, U.S. Dept. of Transportation. Trottenberg testified that the Obama administration is currently considering various methods to increase revenue streams into the Highway Trust Fund, but it would not commit to any particular mechanism at this time. She did, however, say that one concept being reviewed is the assessing of “upstream” fuel taxes. That approach allows tax receipts to rise and fall with the price of fuel, building in a type of inflation adjustment currently lacking in the HTF user fee, which is tacked on at the pump. This concept is not new and has already garnered bipartisan chatter over the last two years. This has given hope that it might be a more politically viable option for bringing stability to the HTF over the seemingly less politically palatable option of simply raising the current user fee, which was last raised in 1993.
On the House side, two more spending bills are moving through the process. The FY’14 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill is scheduled for subcommittee markup June 19, while the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee marked up its bill June 18. As expected, the non-security-related spending measures are taking the brunt of the budget sequestration, as Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) managed to guide the Defense, Military Construction/Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security bills through committee largely unscathed. The Energy and Water Development bill is taking an 11.3 percent cut over last year’s funding levels, while Transportation/HUD is seeing a slight increase of 1.6 percent to $44.1 billion.
Full committee action on both bills is possible before Congress breaks for the Fourth of July recess, meaning six of the 12 appropriations bills will have been passed by the House Appropriations Committee this month. Rogers hopes to pass the Defense bill on the House floor before the recess.
In spite of action in appropriations committees of both chambers, there still is not agreement on a FY’14 budget, so the baseline spending levels being used by the House and Senate differ considerably. There have been ongoing discussions about going to conference on the budget, but currently there is no agreement. Some conservatives in the House insist the debt ceiling be addressed before there is a conference on the budget.
NSSGA will be keeping close tabs on movement of these crucial bills through the appropriations process and will be reminding committee members of why investment in transportation infrastructure pays dividends to all Americans.