Senate Bill Would Spend More on Transit Than House Measure

By Shaun Courtney

Senate appropriators approved $19.5 billion in transportation spending for fiscal 2018, as part of a bill that invests more in transit and multimodal grant programs than a companion House measure.

The $60 billion Transportation-Housing spending bill that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved July 27 would also provide about $40.2 billion for the Housing and Urban Development Department, an increase of $1.4 billion over current spending.

Senate appropriators would spend $1.7 billion more on transportation programs than their House counterparts. The Senate bill would fund discretionary TIGER grants at $550 million, while the House bill would eliminate all funding for the program. The Senate bill also would provide $383 million more than the House measure in capital investment grants, which support major transit projects like commuter rail and bus rapid transit.

"[The bill] provides much-needed investments in infrastructure and housing that our country, including Vermont, so desperately needs,” Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said during the July 27 markup.

He said the bill “rejects the shortsighted budget that was put forward by President Trump.”

Airlines Lose on Fees, Air Traffic Control

Both the Senate and House spending bills reject House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-Pa.) proposal to remove the air traffic control function from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Most of the nation’s major commercial airlines, like American Airlines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co., support the air traffic spinoff.

Senate Transportation-Housing Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) echoed comments from a subcommittee markup July 25 in calling the air traffic proposal a “solution looking for a problem.”

The Senate bill differs from the House bill by making another move unpopular with the airlines: nearly doubling the allowable passenger facility charge to $8.50 per flight segment from $4.50.

The fee, which airports use to fund improvements to safety, security, or capacity, could be increased on the origination flight only, according to an Appropriations Committee summary. The decision whether to increase the passenger facility charge would be up to local airport authorities.

Airport operators have mostly supported gaining flexibility to increase the fee, while airlines have generally opposed higher charges.

Floor Action

Limited calendar availability makes it unlikely the spending bill will go to the Senate floor for a vote until September, much like its companion House spending bill.

The Senate bill’s funding for TIGER grants, and allocations in the House bill that essentially earmark funds for the New York/New Jersey Gateway program, could be among the items lawmakers need to compromise on when and if the bills go to conference.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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