President Signed Five-Year Surface Transportation Reauthorization
Last Friday, President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) into law, reauthorizing surface transportation programs for the next five years. The $305 billion bill gained widespread bipartisan support, passing the House by a vote of 359-65 and the Senate by a vote of 83-16. The FAST Act increases both highway and mass transit funding over inflation-adjusted baseline levels, providing $225.2 billion for highways, $48.9 billion for transit, and $7 billion for highway safety programs.
Within hours of House passage of the bill, House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) said he hopes to find a solution this coming year to the annual Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenue shortfalls, which the FAST Act did not do, possibly through tax reform. Given the increased funding levels in the FAST Act — partly paid for by $70 billion in revenue offsets from mostly non-transportation programs — the shortfall between Highway Trust Fund revenues and annual spending will grow each year under the bill. As a result, the cost of a long-term bill in 2020, when it comes time to reauthorize transportation programs again, will exceed HTF revenues by about $100 billion.
Outside of the new authorization bill, several transportation programs are funded through the annual appropriations process; funding levels for the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program and the Capital Investment Grants transit program will be determined in the omnibus appropriations bill. That bill may be released this week, as the current Continuing Resolution runs out this Friday, December 11.
Next Up, FAA Reauthorization
Chairman Shuster indicated that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill will not be released until next year, presumably in January to give the House and Senate time to work out an agreement before the current six-month authorization extension expires on March 31. One of the most important reforms expected in the next FAA Reauthorization is Air Traffic Control (ATC) reform. Chairman Shuster has advocated for moving ATC outside of the federal government, creating an independent non-profit corporation that would not be subject to the federal budget and appropriations process. Democrats have been slow to fully support the idea, with House T&I Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) calling instead for a government corporation.
This Week’s Hearings:
- Tuesday, December 8: The House Transportation Committee, Aviation Subcommittee will hold a “Roundtable Policy Discussion on Review of FAA Controller Staffing.”
- Tuesday, December 8: The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Transportation and Public Assets Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Program Consolidation.”
- Wednesday, December 9: The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold an executive session to consider the following legislative measures and nominations:
- 571, Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2;
- 2276, SAFE PIPES Act;
- ____, the Airport Security Enhancement and Oversight Act;
- R. 2843, TSA PreCheck Expansion Act;
- 1886, Coordinated Ocean Monitoring and Research Act;
- 1935, Waterfront Community Revitalization and Resiliency Act of 2015;
- 2058, Metropolitan Weather Hazards Protection Act of 2015;
- 2319, A bill to amend the Communications Act of 1934;
- Jessica Rosenworcel, of the District of Columbia, to be a Member of the Federal Communications Commission (reappointment); and
- Nominations for Promotion in the United States Coast Guard
- Thursday, December 10: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an executive business meeting to consider the following legislative measures and nominations:
- 247, Expatriate Terrorist Act;
- 1318, Nuclear Terrorism Conventions Implementation and Safety of Maritime Navigation Act of 2015;
- Dana Boente to be U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and
- John Fishwick Jr. to be U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia