Omnibus FY17 Appropriations Package Released

Monday, May 1, 2017 – 5:00 a.m.

[Note on May 8: This article has been superseded by the following articles giving an overall view of the bill, a detailed summary of the Department of Transportation provisions, and an overview of other transportation and infrastructure funding accounts.]

The House and Senate Appropriations Committee released the text of the omnibus appropriations package for fiscal year 2017 at just after 2:00 a.m. today. The text can be read on the House Rules Committee website here – the text of the 1,665-page bill is here, and the text of the explanatory statement for the Transportation-HUD Division (Division K) is here. The Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. today to consider procedures for taking the bill to the House floor. (The omnibus appropriations package will be an amendment to a Senate amendment to an unrelated bill, H.R. 244, because it is much faster to move a House amendment through the Senate.)

The legislation appropriates a gross $19.5 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation – $650 million more than in fiscal 2016 – and also provides the full $54.4 billion in obligation limitations on Highway Trust Fund contract authority proposed by the FAST Act of 2015. However, the legislation does contain an offsetting rescission of $857 million in highway contract authority balances held by states.

Each year, about 90 percent of the actual appropriations for the Department of Transportation go to just five programs – TIGER grants, FAA Operations, FAA capital (F&E), Amtrak, and FTA capital investment grants. In the omnibus, those five again account for 89 percent of gross USDOT appropriations:

The Appropriations Committees seem to have ignored the requests by the new White House Office of Management and Budget for $2.7 billion in cuts from six accounts in the Transportation-HUD bill, two of which were at USDOT:

Highlights of the USDOT portion of the omnibus package include:

  • Highways. The legislation provides the full $43,266 billion obligation on the federal-aid highways program recommended by the FAST Act, less the $857 million rescission of contract authority balances held by states (to be applied to states in the ratio of each state’s unobligated balances to the total for all states as of May 31, 2017). In addition, the bill appropriates an extra $528 million from the general fund for the highway emergency relief program under 23 U.S.C. §125. In addition, section 122 of the legislation allows Virginia and the District of Columbia to collectively transfer $30 million from their highway formula apportionments to the National Park Service to pay for part of the Memorial Bridge repairs. Section 422 of the legislation once again lets state reprogram “dead earmarks” that are at least 10 years old and less than 10 percent obligated and transfer that money to surface transportation block grant programs. And section 423 of the legislation designates U.S. 67 in Arkansas as Interstate 57.
  • Mass transit. The legislation provides the full $9.734 billion obligation limitation for the federal-aid highway program in fiscal 2017. This includes $199 million in one-time funding for positive train control (PTC) grants to commuter railroads. (The bill text allows the federal share of innovation grants under 49 U.S.C. §5312 to exceed 80 percent if the Secretary determines a substantial public interest or benefit. The bill also appropriates $2.413 billion for the capital investment grants program – together with $118 million in balances transferred from old projects that are not needed, the total available for the account is $2.530 billion. In addition to funding the latest installments of projects that have already had their grant agreements executed, the explanatory statement accompanying the bill says that “The Secretary shall administer funding as in the following tables” that include the Maryland Purple Line ($125 million), Caltrain Peninsula Corridor ($100m), Seattle WA Lynnwood Link ($100m), NYC Canarsie Power Improvements ($84m), Santa Ana, CA streetcar ($50m), Dallas DART core capacity ($49m) and Minneapolis Southwest LRT ($10m). The legislation also sets aside $408 million for ten “small start” projects identified in the 2017 budget request. In addition, the bill provides another $150 million installment of funding for the DC Metro subway system (the eight year of the ten-year, $1.5 billion authorization) and also contains a general fund appropriation for $5 million to fund FTA technical assistance and training activities under 49 U.S.C. §5314.
  • Multimodal. The omnibus legislation appropriates $500 million for the national infrastructure investment (TIGER) grant program in 2017. Most of the terms and conditions appear the same as in prior years except that the maximum grant size is lowered from $100 million to $25 million (in fairness, USDOT hasn’t bene giving individual grants anywhere close to $100 million for from at least five years). The maximum share of total annual grants that can to to projects in any one state drops form 20 percent to 10 percent. And once again, planning grants are not eligible for FY 2017 funding. The bill orders the Secretary to “conduct a new competition to select the grants.” The bill also provides a $3 million appropriation from the general fund for expenses of the National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau (which the Obama Administration tried to rename the Build America Bureau).
  • Aviation. The omnibus bill provides $16.4 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Aviation Administration for fiscal 2017, a $127 million increase over 2016 and $508 million over the budget request. The big account, Operations, gets a $116 million increase over last year and is $31.5 million over the budget request, $30 million of the increase is for the Air Traffic Organization, to “accelerate the safe integration ofUnmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into the national airspace (NAS)” and the other $1.5 million of which is for six new FTE positions “to support the certification o f new technologies and advance FA A ‘ s organizational delegation authorization (ODA) efforts and strengthen safety oversight.” The Facilities and Equipment account is frozen at last year’s $2.855 billion. The Airport Improvement Program is once again frozen at $3.350 billion, of which $10 million is to be transferred to the Secretary for the Small Community Air Service program. The bill also appropriates an even $150 million to the Secretary to continue carrying out the Essential Air Service subsidy program, the same as the budget request but $25 million less than last year.
  • Rail. The bill gives Amtrak a $75 million budget increase above last year, from $1.420 billion to $1.495 billion. The money is split via the new account structure established in the FAST Act – $328 million for the Northeast Corridor and $1.167 billion for the rest of the network, including the money-losing long-distance trains. Of the NEC money, $50 million is for ADA compliance and $5 million is for the Northeast Corridor Commission. Of the National Network money, $2 million is set aside for the State-Supported Route Committee. The final bill does appropriate money for the new Federal Railroad Administration grant programs established by the FAST Act – $68 million for the consolidated grant program, $25 million for the federal-state SOGR partnership program, and $5 million for the rail restoration and enhancement grant program.

A full account-level table for the DOT bill as well as a detailed breakdown of the FAA spending in the bill can be downloaded in PDF form here.

Highlights of the non-USDOT portions of the bill include:

Corps of Engineers. The omnibus legislation appropriates $6.0348 billion for the civil works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, $49 million more than last year but a whopping $1.4 billion (31 percent) more than President Obama requested.

[This article will be extended later today.]

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