Over the last week, House and Senate committees have both passed transportation budget bills for the upcoming year. While the House made a few cuts, the Senate flatly rejected President Trump’s requests to eliminate the TIGER grant program, halt all new federally supported transit construction, and slash passenger rail service.
After a budget deal was struck in May that avoided most cuts for the rest of this year, negotiations begun on the budget for the 2018 fiscal year, which starts this October. This means appropriations committees in both the House and Senate setting funding levels for transportation programs for next year, including the discretionary programs that the Trump administration has targeted for cuts (i.e., those not funded by the Highway Trust Fund.)
In the span of the last week, House and Senate appropriations committees & subcommittees have finalized and voted to approve spending bills for the upcoming year. And while the House did make some cuts, the Senate appropriators unanimously repudiated many of the president’s budget requests for transportation and even made an interesting change when it comes to selecting the best TIGER grant applications.
While the new administration at USDOT had produced their own criteria for how to choose winners for the competitive TIGER grants, the Senate appropriators apparently didn’t approve of them. This language directs USDOT to continue using criteria developed under the last administration to select the winners, the same used for the last eight rounds of TIGER grants. (The Senate Appropriations bill was approved by a bipartisan 31-0 vote, it’s worth noting.)
Though the House did eliminate all funding for TIGER, this is likely unrelated to the president’s request. This has been the norm for the last several years. The House eliminates the funding, the Senate preserves it, and then the Senate number for TIGER has been taken during conference as the House and Senate hammers out the differences. But this doesn’t happen automatically. When/if the appropriations process moves forward, your representatives will need to hear once again your support for TIGER.
Neither House nor Senate appropriators heeded the president’s call to eliminate the federal funding for building shovel-ready transit projects; funding that always gets paired with local or state dollars to make those projects a reality. While the House’s version did make cuts, the Senate provided exactly what’s required to support all of the projects that currently have full-funding grant agreements and are ready to break ground (or are already underway), though the amount is indeed slightly less than the current year’s funding level ($2.13 billion vs $2.4 billion.)
While the House didn’t follow the president’s request to eliminate the program, under no circumstances should a 27 percent cut to transit funding be received as good news.
This cut would result in a handful of transit projects that have local or state dollars already in hand not receiving the full funding they were promised to proceed. And it would delay every other transit project in line behind them waiting for their turn to get a share of this tiny annual amount of federal funding.