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Transportation Groups Urge Lawmakers to Preserve Funds for State Infrastructure

Groups representing state transportation agencies said they want congressional funding leaders returning to Washington next month to ensure that state transportation departments are not stripped of funds they could use for big-scale infrastructure projects. The National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials are among the groups opposed to a proposal that would cancel $2.2 billion in unused budget authority from a federal highway account. The proposal, referred to as rescissions in congressional parlance, is sponsored by Republican transportation funding leaders in the Senate. It would rescind highway funds traditionally meant for state DOTs. The proposed rescission is included in a Senate-passed fiscal 2017 transportation funding bill, and it is a way for its sponsors to cut down on federal spending. House lawmakers are expected to advance their transportation funding bill next month. The House version does not include the proposed rescissions.

The groups called on Senate and House appropriations leaders to reject the rescissions during the chambers’ conference negotiations to draft a final fiscal 2017 transportation funding bill. They warned that a rescission of $2.2 billion in contract authority for state DOTs would impede investments in highways and bridges. “Requiring the rescissions to come from only a portion of the unobligated contract authority balances means that programs important to state DOTs will bear the brunt of these cuts,” AASHTO and the other state groups said in a letter to funding leaders before Congress adjourned for its summer recess. “These rescissions will significantly hamper a state DOT’s flexibility to program federal dollars. They could go so far as to force states to cut actual highway expenditures at a time when we need to be investing in our nation’s infrastructure, potentially eliminating the modest investment gains made in the FAST Act,” they added.
Aside from the Senate bill’s proposal, the 2015 FAST Act highway law requires a cancellation of $7.6 billion in contract authority to states by July 1, 2020. If Congress were to approve the Senate proposal in the final version of a fiscal 2017 transportation bill, state DOTs could see rescissions totaling $9.8 billion by 2020, the groups noted. The Obama administration had proposed a rescission of $2.4 billion. Jim Tymon, AASHTO’s chief operating officer, stressed that rescissions should not be seen as basic budgetary maneuvers. “The Senate’s proposed 2017 rescission would cause big programming headaches for state DOTs because many states have planned for projects that would be funded from the specific federal program categories that would be subject to that rescission,” Tymon said. Lawmakers return to Washington after the Labor Day holiday, and House Republican leaders say they would like to advance the transportation measure to avoid budget battles later in the fall. Calls to the Senate funding leaders – Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who developed the proposal, as well as to the chairmen of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the funding process – were not returned. An aide with the office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Transport Topics last week that a vote on a transportation funding bill is likely in September. McCarthy manages legislation on the floor of the House.

If Congress does not advance a transportation funding bill or the other fiscal 2017 funding bills to the White House by the end of the 2016 fiscal year on Sept. 30, the House and Senate would need to approve legislation that would avoid a shutdown of the federal government. The new funding legislation, which would be called omnibus, would include the fiscal 2017 bills for each agency and new provisions, such as the funding rescission for state DOTs. The alternative measure would be a continuing resolution that maintains the funding status quo until lawmakers agree on the final versions of their fiscal 2017 funding bills.

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