Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Wednesday defended the proposed budget, a 4 percent decrease from FY 2019-enacted levels.
Democratic lawmakers in the House appropriations T-HUD subcommittee on Wednesday criticized portions of the Trump administration’s proposed Transportation Department budget for fiscal year 2020.
President Donald Trump’s budget requested about $84 billion in resources for the department, which is a 4 percent drop from fiscal year 2019-enacted levels. The request includes $21.4 billion in discretionary funds, down by almost 20 percent from FY 2019 levels, said subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C., in his opening statement.
“Regrettably, I don’t think we can count on this administration to be a serious partner in a major infrastructure effort,” he said. “We’re still waiting for anything resembling a realistic plan.”
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told the subcommittee the request fully funds the final year of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act and the Federal Aviation Administration’s authorized funding levels for the Grants-in-Aid for Airports program. She said the budget request, while down from the fiscal year 2019-enacted levels, is an 8.9 percent increase over the administration’s 2019 request.
She also called for bipartisan support for an infrastructure package, referencing a bill filed in February 2018 that did not pass Congress.
“We strongly believe that infrastructure is one area where we really should have consensus and this … initiative of addressing our nation’s infrastructure should really be bipartisan,” Chao said during the hearing to examine the administration’s budget request. “The good news is everything’s on the table and we look forward to working on a bipartisan basis with the new majority.”
Chao made a similar statement about two weeks prior during a Senate subcommittee hearing on the same topic.
Lawmakers in the House subcommittee were pleased, however, with a combined $2 billion provided to Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) and Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants. The funds for the INFRA grants supplement an additional $1 billion provided by the FAST Act.
Port infrastructure could continue to receive BUILD and INFRA grant funds, Chao said in response to a question from Ranking Member Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.
“We want to fund meritorious programs,” she said. “When projects are worthy and they’re well put together and supported by the community, we will of course consider them.”
Diaz-Balart also asked about the Maritime Administration’s Port Infrastructure Development Program, which received funding of $292.73 million in February’s Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019.
“We will get out the [notice of funding availabilities] as quickly as we can and it is not our attention to dawdle, to delay, to be slow in any way,” Chao responded. “We have a lot of NOFAs coming out, but this is obviously a priority and we want to get it out and get it rewarded.”
Another $300 million is provided in the administration’s budget for the Competitive Bridge Program, which “encourages states to replace and repair deteriorating bridges cost effectively through project bundling,” according to Chao’s written testimony.
She said the program received 56 grant applications since December requesting more than $730 million in funds from a pool of $225 million. She said she hopes the grants will be rewarded in the first half of this year.
Subcommittee members also asked Chao about how the department is supporting infrastructure resiliency following disasters. The transportation secretary said the Federal Highway Administration had worked with states and metropolitan areas to assess infrastructure vulnerabilities and has initiated 11 pilot projects “focused on making transportation more durable, resilient.”