October 22, 2020
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The House of Representatives and the Senate are working on a continuing resolution or CR that would fund federal government programs from the beginning of fiscal year 2021 on October 1 through December 11.

The House passed its CR, which included the FAST Act extension, on September 22 by a vote of 359 to 57, with one member voting present. The legislation is expected to clear the Senate and get the president’s signature by the end of the month to avert a federal government shutdown.

Key for state departments of transportation is that a proposed extension of current surface transportation funding legislation – the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act – is contained within the CR for one year, with an additional $13.6 billion added to the Highway Trust Fund.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and 87 organizations had urged Congressional leadership to pass this type of “turn-key” bill in a September 9 letter.

Jim Tymon, AASHTO’s executive director, noted that a one-year extension of current surface transportation funding legislation gives state DOTs the “certainty” needed for planning, letting, and building projects through the 2021 construction season.

“Ideally, if this extension can be provided with increased funding, our industry will be able to employ more Americans in the construction sector which, in turn, will bolster market certainty for the transportation industry in 2021; making businesses more likely to hire workers while investing in new equipment and technologies,” he said.

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.

While the immediate government funding uncertainty is expected to be averted, this stopgap measure’s 72-day duration means uncertainty will return regarding the final FY 2021 appropriations package on  December 11.

editor@aashto.org

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