Federal Spending Bill Clears House

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the federal spending bill released last night by a vote of 256 to 167. The omnibus appropriations bill includes an additional $10 billion in transportation funding over fiscal year 2017 spending but must still clear the U.S. Senate before the deadline tomorrow night at midnight in order to keep the federal government open and send additional monies to states for highways, airports and rail projects.

The legislation fully funds authorized levels in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act at $45 billion for the Federal-aid Highways Program out of the Highway Trust Fund and an additional $2.5 billion from the general fund in discretionary spending for a total of $47.5 billion. Continuing a provision to allow old, unused earmarks to be repurposed for transportation projects that can be built today gives states needed flexibility, so they can use all their federal dollars wisely. The bill also includes an additional $1 billion in discretionary grant funding for road, transit, maritime and rail projects through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.

Other programs to benefit from the $10 billion increase are the Airport Improvement Program for small and rural airports with an additional $1 billion, the Federal Railroad Administration with $1.2 billion and water infrastructure with $1.4 billion. Not included was a provision in the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill to increase the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) from $4.50 to $8.50. Current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authority was extended until Sept. 30, 2018, which gives Congress time to work out the policy for an FAA authorization bill this summer, including a PFC increase.

“While this bill could provide some certainty to green-light critical infrastructure projects and repairs, our nation deserves a serious, and long-term option. Short-term funding does not allow our states and the federal government to properly modernize our surface transportation system, ports, rails and airports,” said Laura O’Neill-Kaumo, NSSGA senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs. “This is a positive step and progress, but we need a highway trust fund fix.”