Not Much Has Changed for Funding

The president recently unveiled his budget and it’s about as expected for transportation. The budget focuses on economic growth and additional transportation funding with large rail and road investment. The questions being asked are where all of that money is coming from.

The plan includes a total of $76.6 billion for the Department of Transportation, an increase of 5.5 percent. There is $40 billion over five years to fund high-speed rail development and other passenger rail programs. There is $50.1 billion for MAP-21, the contract levels authorized for these programs. To stimulate job growth there is an additional $50 billion for transportation investments in 2014.

Of the $50 billion investments, Secretary LaHood responded to the budget and said this includes “$40 billion in ‘fix-it-first’ investments for improving existing infrastructure assets and $10 billion to help encourage State and local innovation in infrastructure development.”

He also said, “In 2009, President Obama laid out his vision for high-speed intercity passenger rail in America. And we have worked hard to fulfill that vision—building or improving 6,000 miles of rail and upgrading 40 train stations nationwide.

“Today, we have trains hitting 110 mph in the Midwest, and the nation’s first 220 mph high-speed rail network is set to break ground in California this year. In the process, our investments have helped create jobs and spur private sector investment in downtown districts across the country.”

Savings in the department’s budget were in lower funding levels for the airport grants program and the additional funding for this investment comes from savings from ramping down overseas military operations to offset the Highway Trust Fund solvency needs, the out-year surface transportation reauthorization allowance and the rail reauthorization proposal.

In the whirlwind of responses and reports on the budget, many are saying the budget fails to provide adequate detail in how it will all be paid for.

The funding highlights also includes the line, “Beyond the reauthorization window, the Budget assumes that the President and the Congress will work together to develop other fiscally responsible solutions.”

Regarding that cooperation, one of the favorite lines I read was from Politico’s Kathryn A. Wolfe’s article “Obama Punts Again on Scoring New Revenues” in which she said, “Of course, as long as the possibility for a grand bargain on fiscal matters is still in play, a funding fix for transportation could still hitch a ride. But for now, it means another round of uncomfortable budget hearings on Capitol Hill for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood or whoever might replace him.”