Washington had been preparing for the first government shutdown since 1995-96 this weekend, but House Republicans and Senate Democrats struck a deal this week to move a two-week continuing resolution (House Joint Resolution 44) that includes $4 billion in budget cuts, about a quarter of which come from transportation. Most government programs will continue receiving funds frozen at Fiscal Year 2010 levels for the next two weeks.
The continuing resolution adopted this week slices $650 million from the federal highway program. This amount was included in the FY 2010 appropriations bill from the government's General Fund, unlike most highway funding that comes from the dedicated Highway Trust Fund. Taxes paid by motorists on gasoline and diesel fuel make up the vast majority of dollars in the trust fund. The $650 million was allocated to states last fiscal year after Congress declined to authorize Obama's $4 billion budget request to start a national infrastructure bank. The $5 billion designated for the bank was instead divvied up among highways, high-speed rail, and other transportation programs. (see Dec. 18, 2009, AASHTO Journal story)
Congress appropriated $41.1 billion for federal-aid highways in Fiscal Year 2010 plus the additional $650 million from the General Fund. Had FY 2010 funding been continued for the rest of this fiscal year, states would have again received a bonus highway allocation.
Also eliminated are $293 million in surface transportation earmarks from FY 2010 and $24 million from the Federal Railroad Administration's Rail Line Relocation and Improvement program.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said in a statement that he agreed to the $4 billion in budget cuts proposed by House Republicans to keep the government operating.
"While I am glad we prevented the government from shutting down, this is not a path we can afford to go down every two weeks," Reid said after the Senate passed the continuing resolution Wednesday by a vote of 91-9. The House of Representatives had approved the joint resolution Tuesday by a vote of 335-91.
Obama praised passage of the two-week measure but said "we cannot keep doing business this way. Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy."
The president called on congressional leaders from both parties to begin meeting immediately with Vice President Joe Biden, White House Chief of Staff William Daley, and Jacob Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, "so we can find common ground on a budget that makes sure we are living within our means."
Rockefeller, Lautenberg Work to Save Rail Funding
After losing just shy of $1 billion in budget cuts this week, transportation supporters are concerned that House Republicans will try to trim additional funds in the next appropriations measure. Funding for high-speed rail and Amtrak have been mentioned by Republican leaders as possible targets for the next round of reductions.
Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, called on Senate Appropriations Committee leaders Thursday to protect funding for rail.
"The nation needs a world-class passenger rail system to help power the economy and keep people moving efficiently, and safely," Rockefeller said in a statement. "The House's short-sighted budget cuts would reverse the great progress we've made and hinder the job growth our rail industry supports. This cannot happen. A modern passenger rail network offers a real solution to the energy, environmental, and transportation congestion problems we face in the 21st century and we should continue to make investments in this infrastructure, which will create jobs and make our rail system top-notch."
The House Republican plan to cut rail funding in a future appropriations bill would cause the loss of jobs and create crippling congestion, Lautenberg warned.
"In New Jersey, thousands of rail passengers who use Amtrak and the Northeast Corridor every day would be affected by more service disruptions and longer commutes," he said in a statement. "At a time when we need to create jobs and improve rail access, the Republican plan would take commuters out of trains and ensure that more cars pack our already congested highways."
The letter from Rockefeller and Lautenberg was cosigned by nine other Democratic and independent senators. It is available at bit.ly/gLHwop.