President Donald Trump has signed off on legislation blocking a planned cut of $7.6 billion worth of Highway Trust Fund (HTF) money set aside for state highway projects.
The Further Continuing Appropriations Act, signed on Nov. 21, keeps money flowing to federal agencies through Dec. 20, thus avoiding a pre-Thanksgiving government shutdown.
The bill, which extends funding for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, also includes a measure eliminating a billion-dollar rescission of HTF contract authority within each of the 50 states that was set to occur on July 1, 2020.
The rescission was included in the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the highway funding bill set to expire at the end of September next year. It was a way to make the five-year, $226 billion bill “more palatable,” according to Washington insiders, by taking back money from each state’s unobligated transportation funding balances. Texas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania had the most to lose — the three states accounted for a combined $2.1 billion, or close to 30%, of the total amount set to be slashed from the fund.
A coalition of 41 organizations and associations, including the American Trucking Associations, wrote to congressional leaders earlier this month urging them to repeal the planned funding cut.
“Importantly, this bill … blocks a looming and devastating cut to an important infrastructure program that every state in our country relies on,” commented U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.
“The resolution of this issue comes at a time when states are preparing their budgets for the coming construction season, eliminating potential uncertainty that could have delayed important transportation infrastructure investments,” said Jim Tymon, executive director for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
The National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) welcomed the measure but pointed out that it only addresses short-term funding needs.
“NAPA urges Congress to move forward with full reauthorization of the nation’s surface transportation programs,” said NAPA President and CEO Audrey Copeland. “The Senate has before it America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act [ATIA], but it lacks a robust funding source. To ensure American infrastructure meets the needs of today and the future, Congress has to make passage of a robustly funded, long-term surface transportation program a priority.”
ATIA, which at a proposed $287 billion would boost long-term highway funding by 27% over the FAST Act, was introduced in the Senate in July. Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have yet to introduce companion legislation.