by Dave Bauer, senior vice president of government relations, ARTBA
House Republicans released March 15 a FY 2017 budget proposal that calls for a dramatic departure from the highway and public transportation investments and policies Congress embraced in December 2015 when it overwhelmingly approved the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.”
Specifically, the budget plan calls for limiting highway and public transportation spending to what existing Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenues could support. In a March 16 letter to Budget Committee members, ARTBA pointed out the inconsistency of this recommendation with the actions Congress took three months ago when it transferred $70 billion from the federal General Fund to the HTF to support the FAST Act’s investment levels. Given the trust fund’s growing revenue shortfall ($14.6 billion per year before the FAST Act’s enactment and $18 billion after FY 2020), ARTBA also noted such a policy would require dramatic cuts in highway and transit investment.
Furthermore, the budget proposal endorses cutting federal highway and transit investment in an attempt to force states to increase their own funding for these activities. The so-called “devolution” plan included in the budget is a dramatic departure from the expanded federal role in surface transportation Congress set in motion by passing the five-year FAST Act. A 2015 Transportation Construction Coalition report quantified states would be required, on average, to increase their motor fuel taxes by 23.5 cents per gallon to make up for the lost federal investments under the “devolution” scheme.
House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), who authored the FY 2018 house budget plan, was among the 15 of 22 Republican members of the House Budget Committee to vote for the FAST Act.
While the back tracking from the FAST Act contained in the GOP budget is disappointing, the plan is expected to be largely ceremonial at this point. A group of conservative Republicans are pledging to vote against the measure because it adheres to the two-year budget agreement House and Senate Republican leaders made with President Obama in 2015. The group wants deeper spending cuts and without their support, Republicans would be unable to overcome unanimous opposition to the budget from House Democrats.