Transportation Cut by Almost 8 Percent in House Spending Bill

By Shaun Courtney

The $56.5 billion fiscal 2018 transportation-housing draft spending bill released by House appropriators July 10 would cut spending and block states from requiring more frequent breaks for commercial truck drivers and other workers than required under federal law.

The bill would provide $17.8 billion for the Transportation Department, a nearly 8 percent decrease from current spending levels. The bill includes $1 billion to continue investment in NextGen technology to modernize the air traffic control.

The $38.3 billion in funding for the Housing and Urban Development Department is a cut of slightly more than 1 percent over the enacted 2017 appropriation. The bill would cut the Community Development Block Grant program—which enables states and municipalities to provide services and community resources for low-income Americans—by $100 million to $2.9 billion.

“This bill makes investments in essential highway, air, rail, and maritime programs that will keep our people and our goods moving efficiently,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said in a statement.

Air Traffic Spinoff a No-Go

The funding bill pits appropriators of both parties against House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), whose air traffic control spinoff proposal was approved out of committee last month.

Shuster touts his bill as a measure to improve the technology and efficiency of the nation’s air traffic control system.

The Appropriations Committee’s proposed funding bill would add $1 billion to efforts to modernize air traffic control and keep it within the Federal Aviation Administration.

“These investments will help ease future congestion and help reduce delays for travelers in U.S. airspace,” an Appropriations Committee document said.

Shuster’s bill doesn’t have a date for a vote on the House floor, though he and his committee staff have said they hope to have a vote in July.

The FAA’s authorization expires Sept. 30.

TIGER Grants Cut

The proposed appropriations legislation would eliminate national infrastructure grants known as TIGER grants which were funded at $500 million in fiscal year 2017. Trump’s FY18 budget proposal called for the Obama-era grants to be eliminated.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told appropriators she was aware of the grants’ popularity because of their “earmark-like” nature.

Housing Changes

The House bill funds Section 8 public and Indian housing at $27.5 billion, a cut of $16 million compared to the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.

Other housing programs, like housing for the elderly and persons with disabilities, would see spending increased to a total of $11.9 billion under the proposed bill.

Riders

The bill includes several riders that could prove controversial during markup July 11.

One such rider prohibits any of the bill’s funds from going to high-speed rail in California or to the California High-Speed Rail Authority. It also prohibits the Federal Railroad Administration from administering a grant agreement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority that calls for matching funding in the future.

All 14 Republican members of the California delegation asked Chao to block funding to the Caltrain electrification project in a letter in February. Chao approved a tranche of Caltrain funding in May, but has repeatedly told legislators during hearings that she could not promise future allocations until she had her budget.

The trucker hours rider in the House appropriations bill echoes an amendment to the Senate’s FAA authorization bill approved out of committee in June. The amendment by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) clarifies that federal break time restrictions supersede state rules with stricter break time requirements.

Next Up

The House Appropriations transportation-housing subcommittee will mark up the bill July 11 at 7 p.m. Chao is scheduled to testify before a Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee July 13 at 2 p.m.

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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