Jeff Boothe on The Future of Transit
Updated: Jun 23
The excerpt below is taken from the full version here
Moving forward, do you feel this infusion of funding is a sign that Congress understands public transit’s importance?
Transit agencies and their employees provide daily vital services to communities and the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates how important those services are to the workforce and essential employees. In several communities, transit agencies and their employees bore a heavy price in terms of death and sickness from COVID-19. The funding provided by Congress demonstrates the importance of transit service to the vitality and functioning of many communities. I am hopeful that the demonstrated importance of transit service will lead to additional funding in FY 21. For the reauthorization of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, it is critical that a sustainable source of funding is identified as Congress remains reluctant to raise the gasoline tax or identify an alternative sustainable revenue source.
On the flip side, there has been speculation that the CARES Act funds may be an advance payment in lieu of more funding to come. Do you have any thoughts on how that may play out?
I have not heard that Congress sees the CARES Act funds as a down payment on FY 21 funding. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are still intent on finishing mark-up on all 12 appropriations bills before September 30, 2020. They will have to do so under very tight budget conditions as the budget caps for domestic programs are scheduled to rise only $5 billion from the FY 20 funding levels. This will place significant fiscal pressure on surface transportation programs funded through the General Fund, such as the Capital Investment Grants and Better Utilizing Infrastructure to Leverage Development (BUILD), which will have to complete with other federal domestic programs funded out of the General Fund.
"For the reauthorization of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, it is critical that a sustainable source of funding is identified as Congress remains reluctant to raise the gasoline tax or identify an alternative sustainablerevenue source."
There seemed to be good momentum on an authorization bill prior to the pandemic, do you feel that head of steam can or will be picked up, or will it be a job for the next Congress?
When Congress reconvenes in mid-May, there will only be slightly more than four months to complete a long-term surface transportation bill. While hearings have been held, no mark-ups have been scheduled. There is great interest by the President, the House leadership, and some members of the Senate to incorporate surface transportation authorization in an economic stimulus bill. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has, so far, evidenced no interest in bringing a surface transportation bill to the Senate floor or voting on a tax increase to help pay for the bill. As long as he maintains this posture, Congress will be forced to act on a short-term extension that will likely result in no action taken until after the November 2020 elections.