Friday, January 17, 2014

Appropriations bill: For rail, some gains, some losses

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.)

Congress finalized the Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations late Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, and President Obama was expected to sign the bill Saturday, Jan. 18. Rail programs—with a few notable exceptions—have been spared major cuts. In some cases, they have been increased.

The following was reported on Jan. 16 by the American Public Transportation Association:

“On Jan. 13, 2014, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) filed appropriations legislation, known as an Omnibus, which funds all federal agencies for the remainder of FY 2014. Chairman Rogers also filed a three-day continuing resolution (CR) extending funding for the federal government until Jan. 18 in order to give Congress time to debate and vote on the Omnibus. The House and Senate have approved the three-day CR.

“Under the budget agreement reached in December 2013, government-wide discretionary spending levels were adjusted for FY 2014 and FY 2015, giving appropriators additional discretionary money to fund federal agencies without the specter of ‘sequestration’ hanging over the programs. The Omnibus appropriates approximately $1.1 trillion for FY 2014, up from $967 billion in FY 2013.

“The House of Representatives passed the full Omnibus Appropriations bill by a vote of 359-67. The measure is now before the Senate, which was expected to pass it.

“Federal transit programs fared well under the Omnibus. The Federal Transit Administration receives the full funding authorized for core formula programs, under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), at $8.595 billion. Capital Investment Grants (New Starts), which receive funding from the General Fund, are funded at the higher Senate-proposed level of $1.943 billion. This level is $128 billion more than originally appropriated by the House. Additionally, the Omnibus makes prior year unobligated balances available to New Starts, thereby fully funding the President’s Budget request at a total of $2.132 billion for Capital Investment Grants. It is expected that, consistent with the President’s request, this funding level also makes $120 million available for new ‘core capacity’ projects that were made eligible under MAP-21.

“Also among the General Funded programs, transit research received $43 million, of which $40 million is for the Section 5312 Research, Development, Demonstration, and Deployment Program, and $3 million was allocated to the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP). This funding level for TCRP is far below historic levels, more than 50% below FY 2012, and also below FY 2013. APTA has repeatedly expressed concerns about this trend affecting the TCRP program and will continue to work with our members to educate Congress on the importance and value of TCRP research. Technical Assistance and Standards Development (Sec. 5314 of MAP-21) receives $3 million and Human Resources and Training (Sec. 5322) receives $2 million.

The bill also provides $150 million for grants to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for capital investments, as authorized under legislation separate from MAP-21.

“For Federal railroad programs, the Omnibus appropriates $1.39 billion for Amtrak capital and operating grants, $47 million more than under sequestration. It also allows $81 million from the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Supplemental bill to be used to support Amtrak’s efforts to improve the safety and resiliency of its tunnels and ensure the reliability of passenger rail services in the Northeast Corridor. It does not provide any funds, beyond Amtrak funding, for intercity or high speed passenger rail development, but conferees did not include language from the House bill that would have prohibited Federal funding for the California high speed rail project. The bill provides no additional funding for the congressionally mandated implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC).

“For other USDOT programs, the Omnibus provides $600 million for the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) program, $126 million higher than what was provided last year and what would have been provided under a continuing resolution. TIGER has been a popular program that supports nationally significant transportation projects in a wide variety of modes, including highways and bridges, public transportation, passenger and freight railroads, and port infrastructure.

“The Omnibus also alters the CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement) Program eligibility requirements. Any system that did use or could have used CMAQ funding for operating assistance in FY 2012 can continue to do so under the bill, and any such system is now exempt from the Federal Highway Administration’s five-year limit on such use of CMAQ funds.

“For Homeland Security, the Omnibus bill provides $1.5 billion for State and Local preparedness grant programs, including $100 million for Transit and Rail Security Grants. This is a $7.5 million increase compared to FY 2013 funding levels. These dollars primarily fund the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP) within the Department of Homeland Security; however, $10 million is set aside for Amtrak security. In prior budget requests, the Administration proposed eliminating the TSGP in lieu of a consolidated National Preparedness program, managed at the state level, which would have forced various sectors (i.e. ports, transit, etc.) to compete for funding. In agreement with APTA’s position to retain the TSGP, House and Senate appropriators and authorizers have repeatedly rejected this proposal, and Congress has again funded a distinct transit security grant program in FY2014.

“Also provided in the Homeland Security section of the bill is $411.4 million for State Homeland Security Grants; $587 million for the Urban Area Security Initiative; $100 million for Port Security grants; and $98 million for the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium.”