FY22 Discretionary Funding Request Would Boost Amtrak, New Starts

Today, the White House sent Congress the first parts of its fiscal 2022 budget request – the overall parameters (rounded to the hundred million dollars) of their requests for discretionary appropriations. The 58-page document can be viewed here.

(It’s not even a “skinny budget” – even one of those contains requested tax receipt, mandatory spending, and discretionary spending totals for ten years. This is one-third of the spending for one year.)

In normal (non-COVID years), mandatory funding is the bulk of U.S. Department of Transportation funding (not discretionary), but it varies widely by mode.For USDOT, the OMB score of the enacted fiscal 2021 bills (excluding emergency COVID aid) was $25.3 billion. The Administration is proposing a $317 million increase, or 1.3 percent.

However, the Administration is taking pains in their presentation to point out that they are starting out by putting USDOT in a $2.9 billion hole. After the bipartisan budget deal between President Trump and Congress in 2018, the Appropriations Committees literally had more money than they knew how to spend, so they just started adding some discretionary general fund appropriations on top of the mandatory funding for highway, transit and airport programs that are provided from trust fund accounts. In fiscal 2021, those general fund plus-ups totaled $2.916 billion.

FY17 FY18 FY19 FY20 FY21
Airports 0 1,000 500 400 400
Highways 0 2,525 3,250 2,166 2,000
Mass Transit 0 834 700 500 516
Total Plus-Ups 0 4,359 4,450 3,066 2,916

The Administration is proposing to get rid of those, on the grounds that those programs are getting so, so, so much money under the proposed American Jobs Plan that no one will notice a zeroing-out of their plus-ups.

If you buy into that framing, then the Biden request for fiscal 2022 is $2.23 billion above the enacted (plus-up free) 2021 enacted level, for a growth rate of 14.3 percent.

The 58-page document from the White House does not have a lot of detail – only two pages are spent on the Department of Transportation. But the document does have some highlights:

Amtrak: +35%. The enacted total for grants to Amtrak in 2021 (excluding COVID) was $2.0 billion ($700 million Northeast Corridor and $1.300 billion National Network). The Administration is requesting $2.7 billion in 2022, a 35 percent increase, but the document does not specify how much of the increase goes for the NEC versus how much for the National Network.

Mass transit CIG: +23%. The fiscal 2021 appropriation for the Capital Investment Grant program was $2.014 billion. The budget document says that the requested level is a 23 percent increase, which would put it at around $2.48 billion.

New intercity rail grant program. The budget requests $625 million for “a new passenger rail competitive grant program to invest in passenger rail as a competitive, low-carbon option for intercity travel.”

Freeze CRISI. The budget requests $375 million for the CRISI railroad grant program, which freezes the program at the 2021 enacted level. This also begs the question: whither the Federal-State Partnership program? CRISI and FSP were the two big discretionary rail grant programs created by the FAST Act, and it got $200 million in appropriations in 2021 (to CRISI’s $375 million).

Freeze BUILD. The budget requests $1.0 billion for the BUILD grant program (formerly called TIGER), which is the same as the appropriated level in 2021, and 2020. However, the American Jobs Plan separately calls for an additional $5 billion for this program.

Low-No Emission Buses. This is a bit confusing. The budget says it is killing the general fund plus-ups for mandatory programs, and in 2021 one of those plus-ups was $516 million for mass transit. But $125 million of that amount in the 2021 bill was to plus-up the low-no emission bus program. The budget says that they are requesting $250 million for low-no bus grants in 2022, so should that be counted as a general fund plus-up? Or are they going to propose to get rid of the underlying Highway Trust Fund low-no emission bus grant program in their reauthorization proposal? Remember, the Administration is also proposing a whopping $25 billion in the American Jobs Plan to replace diesel transit buses with electric buses – 100 times as much as the $250 million being requested for a very very similar program here.

“Thriving Communities Initiative.” “The discretionary request includes $110 million in new funding for grants and technical assistance to communities to improve access to destinations and foster community vibrancy. This program would serve as a down-payment on advancing transportation equity.”

Build the last training ship. The budget makes clear that around $300 million of the FY 2022 request is for the Maritime Administration to build the fifth and final training vessel for the five state merchant marine academies. This means that the 2023 budget for MARAD should be about $300 million lower than the budget has been for the last several years.

The five big-ticket increases mentioned in the document – Amtrak, transit CIG, new rail grant program, low-no, and thriving communities – together add up to $2.15 billion. This leaves another $1.08 billion or so to be spread around all the other discretionary accounts at USDOT for net increases over the enacted 2021 funding levels.

Transportation Secretary Buttigieg is scheduled to defend the budget request (what there is of it) before the House Appropriations Committee on April 15.

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