OMB Does Not Request Highway, Transit Fixes in FY20 CR

The White House Office of Management and Budget sent its list of requests for special treatment in the forthcoming stopgap continuing appropriations measure that Congress must enact by September 30 – and that list does not include fixes for pending highway and mass transit funding problems, as advocates had hoped.

State DOTs are increasingly worried about the $7.6 billion cut in highway funding that is scheduled to take place on July 1, 2020 by section 1438 of the FAST Act of 2015. That rescission of highway contract authority cannot be averted without Congress passing a law, and many had hoped that the FY 2020 CR, which must pass by midnight on September 30 in order to avert another government shutdown, would be the place.

Likewise, apportionments of mass transit contract authority for 2020 are facing an across-the-board reduction of around 10 percent because the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund has failed its self-sufficiency test (called the “Rostenkowski Test”) called for in 26 U.S.C. §9503(e)(4). The House-passed FY 2020 Department of Transportation appropriations bill, in sec. 164(1) of Division E of H.R. 3055 as passed by the House, suspends application of the self-sufficiency test for fiscal 2020. But it is not certain that this provision will make it into law in H.R. 3055, and even if it were, there is no telling when that will be enacted, so inclusion in a CR would prevent the self-sufficiency test from possibly reducing any partial-year apportionments. (The new issue of the Treasury Bulletin released on August 29 confirms that projected unfunded Mass Transit Account authorizations will exceed four future years of revenues.)

But the White House has not requested either of those to be addressed in its list of “anomalies” sent to the Appropriations Committees for inclusion in the continuing resolution (CR). Short-term CRs are usually “clean” extensions of the prior-year enacted appropriations laws and policies, at rates that are pro-rated for the duration of the CR. But there are always some programs that won’t work properly unless their funding rate or permission is adjusted for a new year, and there are usually some other “must-pass” program extensions that hitch a ride on the CR.

For example, the Trump Administration is requesting a front-loading of money for the 2020 Census, which is clearly the kind of thing that anomaly lists were made for because the Census Bureau budget has to function very very differently in the years that end in zero versus all the other years. And they are requesting a one-year extension of the national flood insurance program (which also is set to expire on September 3o), which is the kind of extension that very often rides on a CR.

But the Administration’s request also includes things like participation the Dubai World’s Fair and accelerated funding for NASA’s next manned moon mission, which may not meet Congress’s definition of “so urgent it needs to go in the CR.”

Congress is free to add or subtract from OMB’s requested CR anomalies list (and frequently does). But the fact that, from a budget scorekeeping point of view, repealing a $7.6 billion rescission that is already scheduled by law to take place looks exactly the same as appropriating $7.6 billion in new money is a high hurdle for highway funding advocates to overcome.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) informed his colleagues earlier today that the House will vote on a CR the week of September 16.

The OMB anomaly list does address one infrastructure account. They request that the ongoing appropriations account at the General Services Administration for “Environmental Review Improvement Fund” (which got a little over $6 million in FY 2019) be converted into an account for the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (established by title 41 of the FAST Act) outside the GSA budget.

The request says “Without the anomaly, FPISC would need to execute the activities under the FY 2019 enacted structure. Appropriations in the new account structure would also be necessary in the final full year FY 2020 appropriations bill for these purposes. If the proposed budget structure is adopted in the final FY 2020 appropriations, manual adjustments of the obligations and disbursements would be required. This administrative burden would adversely impact FPISC’s mission execution, as staff would devote more time to duplicative administrative work.”

In other appropriations news, the Senate Appropriations Committee will hold subcommittee markups of its first two FY 2020 bills, the Defense bill and the Labor-HHS-Education bill, on Tuesday September 10, and a full committee markup, which will lead off with the committee adopting a spending plan that gives budget allocations to all 12 subcommittees, will likely be held on Thursday, September 11.

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