FUNDING: States ask Congress to drop plans to rescind billions in highway funds

The proposed fiscal 2017 rescission plus another $7.6 billion in rescissions already scheduled to hit in 2020 under the five-year FAST Act could potentially eliminate the modest investment gains made in the FAST Act

May 23, 2016
The proposed fiscal 2017 rescission plus another $7.6 billion in rescissions already scheduled to hit in 2020 under the five-year FAST Act could potentially eliminate the modest investment gains made in the FAST Act

Associations representing state departments of transportation, legislatures and the nation's governors worked this month to head off a Senate appropriations provision that could potentially take away billions of dollars in already-authorized highway funds.

The groups sent joint letters to Senate and House appropriations committee leaders warning that a proposed rescission of $2.211 billion in contract authority for state DOTs, for the federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, could "force states to cut actual highway expenditures at a time when we need to be investing in our nation's infrastructure."

The May 11 letters were signed by the executive directors of the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). The Senate passed its appropriations bill May 19 that covered Department of Transportation spending, and which contained the $2.2 billion rescission for the coming year.

In addition to targeting only the state DOTs' portion of unspent contract authority – as opposed to also applying the rescission more broadly to federal lands, earmarks and other types of highway funds – the Senate provision would force state DOTs to remove the unused contract authority funds in a uniform percentage across a specific portion of highway program categories.

AASHTO staff said that would prevent each state from protecting its highest-priority program allocations from the rescission – in other words, prevent states from spending actual dollars where they need them most, to make up for past contract authority they were not allowed to use.

The FAST Act's 2020 rescission of $7.6 billion would also apply the contract authority cuts across a narrow range of programs, and could disrupt project plans for state DOTs unless Congress drops that requirement well ahead of the 2020 budget year.

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