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AASHTO Journal

Government Shutdown Averted; <br>Transportation Suffers Significant Spending Cuts
Congress approved Thursday and sent to President Barack Obama an appropriations bill to complete funding the federal government for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The bill enacts a spending deal made late last Friday between Obama, House Republicans, and Senate Democrats, which averted a government shutdown at the 11th hour. It wipes out all funding for high-speed rail this fiscal year, cancels $400 million of last year's unobligated high-speed rail funds, reduces Amtrak capital funding $130 million, cuts transit capital funding $400 million, cancels $280 million in prior transit appropriations, and rescinds $2.5 billion in highway contract authority plus $630 million in old unused highway earmarks.

The bill, HR 1473, finally closes out Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations six-and-a-half months into the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The House approved the measure 260-167 Thursday afternoon and sent it to the Senate, which promptly approved the bill 81-19.

HR 1743 reduces federal spending $40 billion compared to last fiscal year, which proponents called the largest one-year spending reduction in American history. The total amount of nonemergency discretionary appropriations is $79 billion below the budget request Obama had submitted for FY 2011 back in February 2010.

Programs under the jurisdiction of the House and Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Affairs, and Related Affairs Appropriations Subcommittees took the largest hit of any of the dozen appropriations subcommittees, having its discretionary spending for this fiscal year cut 18.3%, from $67.9 billion last fiscal year to $55.5 billion this fiscal year, Transportation Weekly reported.

High-speed and intercity passenger rail suffered the largest appropriations reduction in the transportation sector. This Federal Railroad Administration program received $8 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in FY 2009 and $2.5 billion from FY 2010 appropriations. Zero funding is provided for FY 2011 and $400 million of the FY 2010 funding is rescinded, for a total reduction of $2.9 billion.

Other significant reductions include Federal Transit Administration "New Starts" capital grants from $2 billion last fiscal year to $1.6 billion this fiscal year plus a $280 million rescission of last year's funding (representing federal funding that had been pledged to the canceled ARC rail tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York), Amtrak capital grants from $1.052 billion last fiscal year to $922 million this fiscal year, and USDOT's Transportation Investment Generating Economy Recovery grants from $600 million last fiscal year to $527 million this fiscal year.

The obligation limitation on the federal-aid highway program is frozen at its FY 2010 level of $41.107 billion. State transportation departments will have their contract authority balances lowered by $2.5 billion and states that have old unused earmarked highway funds from 1998 and prior years will see those canceled as well to the tune of $630 million.

Total Federal Highway Administration funding drops 2.2% from last fiscal year to this fiscal year, representing Congress' previous decision not to renew $650 million in General Fund extra highway appropriations and $293 million in General Fund highway earmarks made in FY 2010.

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