Senate passes FY2020 minibus; funding for public transit preserved

Nov. 1, 2019
The spending package includes $1.98 billion in CIG funds and $1 billion in BUILD grants.

The U.S. Senate passed a minibus spending package for Fiscal Year 2020 (H.R. 3055), which includes four appropriations bills concerning the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice and Transportation, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The spending package will now move into conference with the Senate and the House of Representatives. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation was provided $86.6 billion for FY2020 in the package, which is $167 million above the FY2019 enacted level. Within the USDOT’s portion of the package, key programs funded would include:

  • $1 billion for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grants with $15 million that would be available for planning grants.
  • $1.25 billion for the Surface Transportation Block Grant funds and for the elimination of hazards at railway/highway grade crossings.
  • $2.8 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration, which includes $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 $2 million for Restoration and Enhancement grants. Amtrak was funded with $2 billion, which includes $680 million for the Northeast Corridor.
  • $13.0 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, which includes $10.1 billion in transit formula grants from the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund and $560 million in transit infrastructure grants from the general fund. The bill provides a total of $1.978 billion for Capital Investment Grants (CIG), fully funding all current “Full Funding Grant Agreement” transit projects, as well as new projects that have met the criteria of the CIG program.

Most important to the transit industry was the spending package’s inclusion of an amendment that would block automatic cuts to public transit funding, a penalty that would have cut $1.2 billion from formula funding and impacted every public transit agency in the U.S. The automatic reduction in funding was triggered earlier this year following the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund failing a FY2020 forward-looking solvency test.

The amendment to block the automatic cut was submitted by U.S. Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL).

“Without legislative action to block this cut, public transit agencies across America will suffer a 12 percent across-the-board funding cut,” said Sen. McSally. “These cuts would be devastating to all of our communities. Transit funds in my home state of Arizona are critically important to our quickly growing communities. Maricopa County was the fastest-growing county in the United States last year, and cities such as Flagstaff and Tucson are also attracting more jobs and more families.”

The American Public Transportation Association led a coalition supporting the amendment. APTA President and CEO Paul Skoutelas said the association hailed the passage of the spending package with the adoption of the McSally-Jones amendment.

“The Jones-McSally Amendment prevents a $1.2 billion cut to public transportation funding by blocking a 12 percent across-the-board funding cut to every transit agency in the nation in fiscal year 2020,” said Skoutelas. “APTA thanks Sen. Doug Jones and Sen. Martha McSally for offering this critical bipartisan amendment to protect public transit funding from implementation of the Rostenkowski Test… APTA remains committed to building a stronger and more interconnected transportation system across America and will continue to work with Congress and the Administration to ensure adequate funding is available to maintain transit services and support critical projects that will repair, maintain and improve our public transit systems today and in the future.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.