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Legislative Affairs: Understanding the Legislative Process

Both the Texas Legislature and the United States Congress address many important transportation issues that affect the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Transportation and air quality in the North Central Texas region are impacted by legislative decisions at the State and federal levels.

NCTCOG staff regularly update policy and technical committee members, transportation partners and others interested in monitoring legislative initiatives related to the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) legislative priorities.

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Legislative Updates

Summary of Recent Legislative News and Action
March 23, 2018

FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.

 

Appropriations

Congressional leaders released the text of the fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriations bill late Wednesday after three days of negotiations and approved the measure this morning. The President signed the bill this afternoon to avoid a government shutdown. The bill totals $1.3 trillion, with the US Department of Transportation-HUD receiving $70.3 billion, an increase of $12.6 billion over fiscal year 2017 levels. US DOT’s big seven discretionary programs receive a total appropriations of $27 billion. The FAA receives $18 billion for operations, facilities, and equipment; Amtrak is provided $1.9 billion, for improvements mostly in the northeast corridor; $863 million is for new rail grant programs established by the FAST Act; $4.4 billion will be appropriated from the general fund for airports, highways, and mass transit, while $2.5 billion is for the mass transit Capital Investment Grant Program. TIGER Grants are appropriated $1.5 billion dollars ($1 billion more than last year) with a maximum grant size of $25 million and 30% is set aside for rural projects alone. Planning grants are now available through TIGER with a limit of $15 million per project, and have not been available since 2014. Overall, the bill meets or exceeds the limitations of the FAST Act and is $7.9 billion more than last year for USDOT.

 

2017 TIGER Grants

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced 41 recipients of $487 million in total grant funding for the TIGER Surface Transportation Grant Program of FY17. Unlike previous award years, this year gave 43 states each a single project. This differs from FY15 in which California received funding for four projects, and New York received funding for three projects. The one-per-state rule allows more rural projects to receive funding, in fact over 60% of total projects are in areas with a population of less than 50,000. Road projects got 77% of the 2017 TIGER money, up from 30% in 2015. Bike/pedestrian projects, which got 7% of the money in 2015, received zero this year (though the Trump Administration did fund some “complete streets” initiatives that do have bike/pedestrian components). Transit made up only 4% of the total funded projects. In Texas, Houston received the award of $9,370,000 for a Roadway Flood Warning System.

 

Automated Vehicle Policy

The U.S. Department of Transportation also announced the next phase of its new initiative to encourage the adoption of automation vehicles (AV) and technologies in transportation. The initiative is based on the automation policy document titled “Automated Vehicles 3.0” and builds on last year’s policy document “Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety”, which outlined the role of federal and state government in AV regulation. The new policy will not only discuss roles in regulation but also how to better implement new technologies. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao identified six department-wide principles that will guide USDOT’s AV policy:

  • Safety will always be the top priority.
  • Policies will be “flexible and tech-neutral, not top-down, command and control.” USDOT will not pick winners and losers, but will instead allow the market to pick the best solutions and technologies.
  • Regulations will be as non-prescriptive and performance-based as possible. In all future regulatory actions, USDOT will not automatically assume that a “driver” of a vehicle is a human.
  • USDOT will work with states and other authorities to avoid a patchwork of regulations that could make it difficult for AVs to cross state lines.
  • Provide support to stakeholders through guidance, best practices, pilot programs, and other assistance needed to safely integrate AVs.
  • Recognize that there will always be a mixed fleet where AVs operate side-by-side with traditional, human-driven vehicles.

 

Highlighted Bills

 

H.R. 5198: Restoring Local Control Act-- This bill was introduced and sponsored by Ken Buck (R-CO); titled, A Bill to Amend Titles 23 and 49, United States Code, to Improve Metropolitan Planning. The populations represented in regards to the designated MPO under highway program and designated MPO under transit program would be changed from “75 percent” to “50 percent”. Currently, to carry out the transportation planning process, a MPO shall be designated for each urbanized area with a population of more than 50,000 individuals-by agreement between the Governor and units of general purpose local government that together represent at least 75 percent of the affected population or with procedures established by State or local law.

 

Recent Committee hearings

Texas Legislature

The Texas Senate Transportation Committee met February 21, 2018, to review the state’s policy related to the naming of state highways for individuals and make recommendations to limit and reform the criteria of such designations.

 

The Texas Senate Finance Committee met March 20, 2018, on the Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund. The Comptroller provided options to the committee to increase investment earnings of the Economic Stabilization Fund in a manner that minimizes overall risk to the fund balance. Investment options would ensure the liquidity of a sufficient portion of the balance so that the legislature has the resources necessary to address the needs of the state, including natural disasters. The committee supported the general idea of investing funds but had concerns about the proposal and would like funds immediately available in case of an emergency.

 

US CONGRESS

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on March 1, 2018, to discuss “The Administration’s Framework for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America.” The committee heard testimony from Elaine Chao on streamlining the environmental permitting process which takes significant amounts of time on highway projects. A future funding plan to replace gasoline tax was also discussed and the support for alternate transportation funding methods for critical infrastructure needs. The Trump Infrastructure Plan details the critical conditions of congestion, crumbling infrastructure and the needs of rural America.

 

The House Transportation Committee held a hearing on March 7, 2018, to discuss Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Long-Term Funding for Highways and Transit Programs. The committee addressed the need for improvements in infrastructure over the next decades. Forecasts predict that America’s population will grow from 319 million in 2014 to approximately 400 million in 2051. The movement of freight is expected to increase by 40 percent over the next 30 years. U.S. trade volume is expected to double by the year 2021 and double again by the year 2030. Regarding highway usage, vehicle miles traveled are projected to increase by nearly 20 percent by 2035. The total shortfall of the Highway Trust Fund in the next 10-year term is expected to be $143 billion.

 

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation conducted three meetings on March 13-14, 2018, to discuss the infrastructure proposal released by the White House. The meeting featured five cabinet secretaries including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Labor Secretary Axel Acosta, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. The hearing discussed the burden-shifting of projects from an 80-20 federal-state split on highways and interstates, and 50-50 federal-state split on major mass transit projects to a larger portion of funding coming from state and local governments. This means many states will have to look at alternative methods of funding for projects and ways to leverage investment. Secretary Chao estimated the national infrastructure needs to total $4 trillion. Secretary Perry expressed the need for removing regulatory barriers for construction approval and the permitting process.

 

The Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security held a hearing on March 13, 2018, titled “Rebuilding Infrastructure in America: State and Local Transportation Needs.” The committee heard testimony from Kyle Schneweis, director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation and the recent coordination to streamline infrastructure projects. The committee was given a detailed description of the regulations some states face when it comes to funding sources. Fifteen sample cities were listed along with the funding tools they need to pass before they leverage funding for transportation projects such as sales tax, fuel tax, wheel tax, income tax and public-private partnerships. No Texas cities came up as sample areas.

 

UPCOMING Committee hearings

TEXAS LEGISLATURE

The Texas House Appropriations Committee will meet at 10:00 April 18, 2018, to consider the following interim charges:

  • Continue to study strategies to use the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to generate additional revenue for state obligations without compromising the fund's intended purpose. Evaluate the current methodology used to set the ESF cap.
  • Examine the use of one-time funding and deferral measures employed by the Legislature in the state budget for the 2018-19 biennium, as well as any other factors that may contribute to a structural deficit. Explore strategies to ensure the state's ability to meet its ongoing fiscal obligations.

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To view Committee Hearings for the Texas Senate click here:

http://www.senate.texas.gov/av-live.php

To view Committee Hearings for the Texas House click here: http://www.house.state.tx.us/video-audio/

RELATED LINKS

State
Texas Legislature Online

Federal
Congress.gov

 

 

 


 

 

US Congress

In 2005 Congress passed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) . This legislation guided surface transportation policy and funding through 2009. Nine short-term extensions passed since SAFETEA-LU expired in 2009. The final short-term extension of SAFETEA-LU extended surface transportation authorization through June 30, 2012.

On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law a two-year $105 billion surface transportation authorization, titled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). MAP-21 reauthorized the federal-aid highway, highway safety and transit programs that were last authorized by SAFETEA-LU. New programs and funding levels began on October 1, 2012, and continued through September 30, 2014. The final short-term extension of MAP-21 expired on December 4, 2015.  

On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act into law, which authorizes Federal highway, transit, safety and rail programs for five years at $305 billion. The FAST Act is effective October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2020.

Resources

FAST Act

MAP-21

SAFETEA-LU

 

 

3/28/2018  RH %Trans

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