FUNDING: House panel advances 2017 funding bill for USDOT

May 31, 2016

Concerns for provisions draw veto threat from Obama administration

The House Appropriations Committee advanced a spending bill for the 2017 budget year starting Oct. 1 that funds the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) highway and transit formula programs at levels consistent with the five-year FAST Act Congress passed in December.

It also includes $19.2 billion in USDOT funding subject to annual appropriations, which the committee said is $540 million above the level enacted for fiscal 2016. In all, the panel said its bill provides $76.9 billion to improve and maintain the nation's transportation infrastructure.

However, it also includes trucking workweek provisions that safety advocates say could put more tired truckers on the nation's highways, by preventing the USDOT from implementing a regulatory change to off-duty time requirements until the department can prove it would benefit drivers' health.

The Obama administration issued a veto threat May 16 that cited its concerns for highway safety, along with some other issues.

The Senate passed its version of the 2017 spending bill May 19. It includes a provision that would force state departments of transportation to cut $2.211 billion of past, unused contract authority that the DOTs were prevented from using because of annual obligation limits imposed by Congress.

The DOTs would have to apply that proposed rescission across a narrow group of federal program categories, which combined with a $7.6 billion rescission in the recently passed FAST Act, could cause them to lose actual funds by the year 2020. A coalition of organizations representing state governments has called on Congress to remove that rescission.

In its major spending categories, the bill would provide $44 billion for the federal-aid highway programs in the Highway Trust Fund, as authorized by the FAST Act.

The bill would provide $12.5 billion in total transit funding, up by $743 million from 2016. That includes $9.7 billion in formula grants to transit agencies in line with the authorized level.

It would fund the Federal Railroad Administration at $1.7 billion, up $42 million from this year, with $420 million directed into Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and $1 billion to support its national network. It provides no funds for high-speed rail.