House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Releases Highway Bill, Markup Scheduled This Week
On Friday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) released its long-awaited surface transportation reauthorization bill and scheduled the markup of the bill for this Thursday, October 22.
The House provides six years of authorizations from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) at Congressional Budget Office baseline levels, which are current-year levels with a small annual upward adjustment for inflation. That amounts to $325 billion in total contract authority from the HTF, with $55 billion for transit and $262 billion for Federal-aid highways. Transit’s General-Funded programs, including the Capital Investment Grant program, would receive an additional $12.8 billion. These authorization levels are lower than even the very modest annual funding increases in the Senate DRIVE Act. We await a revenue title to close the gap between projected HTF revenues and the bill’s authorized funding levels; the T&I title does include a provision that blocks any distributions from the HTF for each of the last three years of the bill unless legislation has been passed providing funding sufficient to maintain a minimum prudent balance in the HTF for each such year.
When released, the revenue title of the House bill may look familiar to transportation stakeholders. After negotiations to fund transportation programs through revenue gained from international tax reform broke down between Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the House has apparently decided to adopt the Senate DRIVE Act’s revenue approach of a General Fund transfer partially paid for (offsetting three years’ worth of the six-year bill) by spending cuts and revenue increases from throughout the Federal budget.
The bill maintains many of the current highway and transit programs, but generally simplifies and streamlines program requirements and accelerates the project approval process. For example, the bill re-casts the Surface Transportation Program (STP) as a block grant program and creates a pilot under which States can apply their own environmental laws to Federal-aid highway projects, instead of the National Environmental Policy Act process. The bill also answers the repeated calls of stakeholders to make non-National Highway System bridges on Federal-aid highways eligible for Federal-aid highway funding and to restore discretionary grants for bus purchases.
Given the expected timelines for advancing the policy and revenue titles of the House bill, another extension of surface transportation programs past their current October 29 expiration is almost guaranteed. The only question is for how long. That decision appears to be linked to a number of other deadlines Congress is facing as it returns from its Columbus Day recess, including the debt limit (November 3), expiration of the Continuing Resolution (December 11), and Positive Train Control implementation (December 31).
This Week’s Hearings:
- Thursday, October 22: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a markup of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act.