Congress Makes (Slow) Progress on Transportation, Housing Spending

In July, both the House and the Senate made progress toward setting spending levels for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development for the upcoming fiscal year. However, both chambers are far behind in their work to put in place finalized spending for the fiscal year that begins on October 1.

The House managed to approve only four bills before adjourning for the August recess, a mini-bus package of energy and defense spending bills, dubbed the “security-bus.”

The Senate has not yet approved any spending bills on the floor, but will remain in Washington for an additional two weeks beyond the House. It’s unclear whether Senators will take up any spending bills during this time.

The House is working from significantly lower spending levels for domestic discretionary programs than the Senate. House appropriations bills were written at $5 billion lower than the spending cap for the upcoming fiscal year, shifting significant resources to the defense side of the ledger.

These cuts to domestic spending are apparent in the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) spending bill. The proposed spending bill would eliminate TIGER, halve Capital Investment Grants, and slash the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. However, these cuts to THUD and domestic spending overall will be a difficult sell in the Senate, which currently requires a 60-vote majority to approve appropriations bills.

When Congress returns to Washington in September, it will have only 12 legislative days to approve FY 2018 spending before the beginning of the fiscal year.

House

On July 17, the House Appropriations Committee voted 31-20 to advance its FY 2018 THUD bill. The bill provides $56.5 billion in funding for the bill, $1.1 billion lower than current spending levels and $8.6 billion above the President’s request for FY 2018.

The spending cuts are equally divided between DOT and HUD, which resulted in major cuts to programs critical to planners.

The House bill completely eliminates the TIGER program, cuts Capital Investment Grants (New Starts) nearly in half to $1.74 billion, and slashes the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative by 85 percent to just $20 million. It also makes $100 million cuts to both the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnership programs, cuts that are harmful, but given the funding levels of the other programs in the bill, could have been far worse.

The bill was approved by the full committee with a single amendment, a manager’s package making largely technical changes to the bill. Several committee members proposed amendments that would increase funding for TIGER, HOME, CDBG, and Choice Neighborhoods.

Notably, THUD Subcommittee Ranking Member David Price (D-N.C.) introduced a $200 billion infrastructure amendment that would have provided an additional $30 billion for TIGER, $500 million for Choice Neighborhoods, $10 billion for CDBG, and $5 billion for HOME. The amendment was rejected because it was not offset by other spending cuts.

Senate

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously on July 27 to approve its FY 2018 THUD bill. The bill provides $60.058 billion in funding overall, $2.407 billion higher than current funding levels and $3.5 billion higher than the House THUD bill.

Considering the constraints of the FY 2018 budget cap, the increased THUD allocation is a huge win and allowed appropriators to avoid making the same types of cuts seen in the House THUD bill. The House Appropriations Committee approved its bill on July 17.

Overall, most housing and community development programs are at least level funded in the bill. The CDBG and the HOME programs both received level funding compared with current levels at $3 billion and $950 respectively — an important victory because of the President’s proposal to eliminate both programs.

Choice Neighborhoods was one of the few housing programs that was cut. The Senate proposal would fund the program at $50 million, a whopping $87 million less than current funding levels, but still better than the House’s paltry $20 million.

The Senate also proposed an increase in funding to the TIGER program, raising its funding level in the upcoming fiscal year to $550 million, a $50 million increase over current spending levels. It also provides $2.133 billion for New Starts, fully funding all current grant agreement transit projects.

The bill was approved by the full committee with three amendments: one manager’s amendment making technical changes and two trucking regulation amendments.

THUD Subcommittee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) proposed an amendment to increase the overall spending level of the bill by $7.7 billion, raising the allocation to FY 2010 levels. The amendment included $1.5 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund, $1.27 billion for HOME, $230 million for additional VASH vouchers, and $200 million for lead paint abatement. The amendment was rejected.

Make Your Voice Heard

Congress will reconvene in September just as planners are slated to make their way to Capitol Hill for the Planners' Day on Capitol Hill event, part of APA's Policy and Advocacy Conference.

Join APA's Planners' Advocacy Network to find quick, easy ways to voice your support for the Senate's version of the THUD spending bill this August, and save $100 on Policy and Advocacy Conference registration.

Top image: U.S. Capitol photo in the public domain.


About the Author
Tess Hembree is policy manager at Advocacy Associates.

August 1, 2017

By Tess Hembree