The Senate Appropriations Committee on July 12 followed the lead of the House Appropriations Committee earlier last week in approving the fiscal year 2008 funding measure for the Department of Transportation.
Both bills fully fund the Highway program at the SAFETEA-LU guaranteed level of $40.2 billion, a $1.1 billion increase over fiscal year 2007. Included in this figure is $631 million in Revenue Aligned Budget Authority (RABA) funds, which is an adjustment in the authorized funding level to reflect actual Highway Trust Fund receipts.
This action comes at a critical moment for the highway program as it was reported last week that the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) mid-session review estimated that the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund will be short $4.3 billion in fiscal year 2009. The Administration's budget request had recommended that the $631 million in RABA funds not be provided in fiscal year 2008. In a letter to the Hill detailing the OMB projection, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said the shortfall was due to lower motor fuels sales and again reiterated the Administration's request that the $631 million in RABA funds not be provided in fiscal year 2008.
Federal budget rules would require a cut in fiscal year 2009 of nearly $16 billion in highway funding to account for the $4.3 billion shortfall in revenue. AASHTO, ARTBA, AGC and their Transportation Construction Coalition partners sent a letter to Congress pointing out the funding crisis that is looming and enumerating a series of measures that can be taken to prevent this kind of draconian cut in the highway program.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) expressed skepticism about the projected shortfall and said they will hold a hearing in the next two weeks to thoroughly examine the issue.
Other programs in the House and Senate Committee approved transportation appropriations measures include: transit funds of $9.7 billion in the House and $9.6 billion in the Senate, both increases over the $9 billion in fiscal year 2007; and Airport Improvement Program funds of $3.6 billion in the House and $3.516 billion in the Senate, compared to the $3.516 billion provided in fiscal year 2007.