Senate Passes THUD Bill as Part of Minibus Funding Package

The U.S. Senate voted to approve a more than $154 billion “minibus” funding bill – H.R. 6147 – on Aug. 1 by a vote of 92 to 6; a bill that wrapped together four separate spending bills into a single package, including the fiscal year 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development or THUD bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee back on June 7 with only a few minor changes.

The THUD Act provides $71.4 billion in discretionary spending for the U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with other related agencies, which is $1.1 billion above fiscal year 2018 enacted levels.

It also provides $49.3 billion for critical highway infrastructure, an increase of $3.3 billion above the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act’s authorized levels, with $800 million of that increase targeted to bridges in rural areas.

The Senate also adopted a “manager’s package” of 46 amendments by voice vote on all four appropriations bills in the minibus, including 12 related directly to the THUD funding bill.

One of those amendments cut $52 million from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act funding to extend the spending deadline for certain fiscal 2012 TIGER projects; a program that underwent a name change in April and is now called the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development or BUILD Transportation grants program.

Another amendment prohibits procurement of transit rail cars and buses from companies owned or subsidized by the Chinese government, while a third blocks funding of Federal Transit Administration policy changes to its Capital Investment Grants or CIG program – a source of controversy ever since the FTA issued a “dear colleague” letter regarding CIG funding formula changes on June 29.

Aside from those amendments, the funding levels for various transportation agencies and activities in the original bill approved by the Appropriations Committee remained in place in the final bill passed by the Senate:

*$1 billion BUILD grants, previously known as TIGER grants.

*$956 million in total budgetary resources for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, $667 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and $275 million for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

*$17.7 billion in total budgetary resources for the Federal Aviation Administration

*$1 billion for FAA Next Generation Air Transportation Systems or “NextGen” programs and not less than $168 million for the Contract Towers program. The bill also provides $750 million in additional funding for airport improvements.

*$2.8 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration, which includes $1.9 billion to Amtrak for the Northeast Corridor and National Network, along with $262 million for FRA safety and operations, as well as research and development activities.

*$255 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grants program, $300 million for Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants, and $10 million for Restoration and Enhancement grants.

*$13.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, with $9.9 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to fund formula grants, honoring the FAST Act. In addition, the bill provides another $800 million in transit funding from the general fund. The bill provides a total of $2.6 billion for Capital Investment Grants or “CIGs,” fully funding all current Full Funding Grant Agreement or “FFGA” transit projects, as well as new projects that qualify.

*$818 million for the Maritime Administration, along with $300 million for the Maritime Security Program.

“The funding provided by these bills will help to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, fight against opioid abuse, make important investments in American agriculture, and promote and support the growth of our economy,” noted Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, chairman of the appropriations committee, in a statement.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee’s vice chairman, added in a separate statement that the THUD bill “contains $10 billion in new funding compared to fiscal year 2017” to invest in housing and infrastructure.

“Every member in this body knows of the urgent need to address the crumbling infrastructure that plagues each of our states,” he said. “This is a good first step.”

However, the Senate’s THUD bill will have to be reconciled with the version passed by the House of Representatives’ appropriation back on May 16, noted Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who serves as the chairman of the Senate transportation appropriations committee.

“We’ll start talking with our House counterparts, almost immediately identifying issues,” she told reporters. “There also will have to be an agreement on the allocations and because the House and Senate have different allocations, but nevertheless this represents great progress, it really does.”

Shelby added that this latest multiple-agency funding measure follows last month’s passage of H.R. 5895, a minibus which packaged the Energy and Water Development, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and the Legislative Branch fiscal year 2019 appropriations bills. The Senate approved that three-bill package with a vote of 86 of 5. Furthermore, he noted that all 12 of the Senate’s fiscal year 2019 appropriations measures passed out of the committee by “wide bipartisan margins,” approved by a cumulative committee vote of 363 – 9.

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