President Trump signed a continuing resolution or CR that funds federal government programs on October 1 – the beginning of fiscal year 2021 – through December 11 and extends current surface transportation funding reauthorization after it cleared the Senate late on September 30 by a vote of 84 to 10.
The House passed its CR, which included a one-year extension of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act, on September 22 by a vote of 359 to 57, with one member voting present.
Key for state departments of transportation is that the FAST Act extension includes an additional $13.6 billion added to the Highway Trust Fund – an increase urged by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and 87 organizations to Congressional leadership in a September 9 letter.
“We are pleased that Congress approved the $13.6 billion transfer to the Highway Trust Fund and that states will have certainty for planning their 2021 programs, knowing the current surface transportation legislation remains in place for another year,” said Jim Tymon, AASHTO’s executive director.
“We look forward to working with Congress and committee staff on a reauthorization that will address the challenges facing surface transportation, including the need for a long-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund,” he added.
According to an analysis by the AASHTO policy team, the FAST Act extension within the CR provides:
- Obligation limitation through December 11, estimated to be $9.1 billion for the Federal-aid Highway Program.
- An extension of FAST Act funding and provisions from FY 2020 to all of FY 2021, including contract authority formula apportionments to states.
- A $10.4 billion general fund transfer to the HTF’s Highway Account and a $3.2 billion transfer to the Mass Transit Account.
- A $14 billion general fund transfer to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, making up for the aviation excise tax holiday included in the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in March.
- Suspension of the Rostenkowski fiscal solvency test for the Mass Transit Account for FY 2021. Without suspending that “test” – crafted by the late Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D), who served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in the 1980s – significant reductions in transit obligation funds would occur in FY 2021.
- An increase to the “multimodal cap” within the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America or INFRA discretionary grant program from $500 million to $600 million.
- An extension of 2017 and 2018 Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development or BUILD grant program obligation deadlines through September 30, 2021.
“This is really was a big win for state DOTs,” added Joung Lee, AASHTO’s director of policy and government relations during the organization’s virtual joint policy conference this week. “This means we are good for a continuation of policy and funding.”
He noted that passage of the CR/FAST Act extension means Highway Trust Fund obligation limitations through Dec. 11 should total an estimated $9.1 billion.
Yet Lee pointed out that the annual federal government appropriations process “still remains far from regular order” – noting that 1996 is the last time all 12 appropriations bills passed on time to fully fund the federal government.
“However, we do have the one-year extension and we urge everyone in state DOT community and transportation industry as a whole to make the most of this extension,” he emphasized. “We are also now urging Congress to get a multi-year [surface transportation reauthorization] bill passed when this extension expiries in September 2021.”