June 2020 Legislative Update
FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.
House Releases Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the Chair of the House’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, introduced a surface transportation reauthorization bill early this month. The INVEST in America Act (“Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation” in America Act) provides $495.4 billion in federal funding for FY2021 through FY2025.
Contract authority from the Highway Trust Fund accounts for $412.2 billion and $83.0 billion is authorization for subsequent appropriations from the Treasury’s General Fund (mostly for mass transit and intercity passenger rail). The House bill is a 62-percent overall increase over the FAST Act and a 47-percent increase when only considering authorizations from the HTF. To pass this bill, Congress would need to find at least $140 billion in additional HTF resources.
Unlike the bipartisan highway-only reauthorization bill introduced in the Senate last summer, the House bill was drafted without much input from the committee’s minority members and, thus, leans heavily into urban and environmental issues championed by Democrats. The FAST Act, the current surface transportation authorization bill, expires on Sept. 30. See below for more information about the bill.
Highway Trust Fund Update
Due to the way taxes are collected, the extent of the coronavirus lockdown’s impact on the Highway Trust Fund is just now becoming clear. HTF receipts for April and May for both the Highway and Mass Transit accounts are down by more than 40 percent. Meanwhile, spending in the Highway Account is up by $2 billion compared to last year. To find out when the HTF could become insolvent, USDOT has modeled different scenarios, all predicated on when tax receipts return to normal in the next 12 months. All scenarios show the HTF will become insolvent by April or May 2021, which would require Congress to authorize a bailout from the General Fund in summer 2021.
Executive Order on NEPA and Project Delivery
Last week President Trump signed an executive order using his emergency powers to allow agencies to expedite federal environmental review of infrastructure projects. The order is intended to fuel the nation’s economic recovery. The order directs the Secretary of Transportation to “use all relevant emergency and other authorities to expedite work on, and completion of, all authorized and appropriated highway and other infrastructure projects.” Agency heads should identify “planned or potential actions” relating to NEPA regulations and consult with the Council on Environmental Quality on making alternative arrangements. However, most observers think any attempt by CEQ to use emergency powers to circumvent NEPA regulations, even in response to the coronavirus, would become mired in court challenges.
Texas has been on lockdown since early March with the economy on hold, but the Governor has now been easing restrictions over the past few weeks. Some are calling on Governor Abbott to use the $10.2 billion balance in the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), or Rainy Day Fund. To access the ESF, Governor Abbott would need to call a special legislative session, which is unlikely at this time. It may be more likely that the ESF is used to create a supplemental budget during the regular session beginning January 2021. When legislators return to Austin for the legislative session in January, they could use the ESF balance to cover unforeseen expenses brought by the COVID-19 response during the 2019-2020 biennium, which some legislators are opposed to.
Further, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced last week that state sales tax revenue totaled $2.61 billion in May, 13.2 percent less than in May 2019. The majority of May sales tax revenue is based on sales made in April and remitted to the agency in May.
The May collections report also included the following:
- Motor vehicle sales and rental taxes — $265 million, down 38 percent from May 2019 and a modest improvement over April’s results
- Motor fuel taxes — $221 million, down 30 percent from May 2019 and the steepest drop since 1989
- Natural gas production tax — $31 million, down 76 percent from May 2019
- Oil production tax — $90 million, the lowest monthly amount since July 2010, down 75 percent from May 2019 and the steepest drop since a 77 percent drop in March 1988
Texas Transportation Commission
April 30, 2020
On April 30, 2020, a Texas Transportation Commission meeting was held via teleconference. Brian Barth with TxDOT gave a short presentation on updates to the 2020 UTP. Barth gave an overview of the IH 35 project in Austin and discussed available Category 12 funding for the project. Statistics on the comments received during the public meeting process were given. Of the 3810 public comments, 1210 were opposed to the project. There was discussion on how those comments in favor of the project were calculated, as some were in support of the project but against the way the project was funded and were ultimately counted as support. The commission voted 3-1 and approved the changes to the 2020 UTP.
May 28, 2020
The Texas Transportation Commission heard several important items at their May 28, 2020, meeting via teleconference. The commissioners discussed a report on the development of the TxDOT fiscal year 2022-2023 Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR). The staff presentation focused on capital budget and FTEs. Capital budgets are defined as appropriations for acquisitions of over $100,000. Highway construction, maintenance, ride of way, and development costs are not included in the LAR request. Additionally, the RFP process to seek a contractor for the Southeast Connector Project in Tarrant County was approved unanimously.
HR 2 INVEST in America Act (DeFazio, D-OR)
Due to our present extraordinary circumstances, INVEST in America is basically a combination of two separate bills. Division A would maintain the FAST Act’s existing highway and transit program structure for FY2021 and mostly extend the FAST Act’s FY2020 authorized funding levels for highway, transit and safety programs—about $60.1 billion. However, it also makes several temporary changes to provide state highway departments and local transit agencies with relief from revenue lost due to coronavirus, for example, by providing 2021 highway and transit contract authority at 100-percent federal cost-share. With additional supplemental funding from the HTF, the total for FY2021 comes to 83.1 billion.
Division B would then reauthorize highway, transit and safety programs for four more years through FY2025 and create at least 20 new programs (as well as bring back Safe Routes to Schools.) Division B authorizes $257.4 billion in contract authority for FY2022 through FY2025 for the Federal-aid highway program and operates from a philosophy of “fix-it first,” requiring the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) funds to focus on state of good repair and operational improvements to existing facilities before building new highway capacity. In addition, it would require USDOT to establish a new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions performance measure and focus more on resilience, requiring States and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to develop an infrastructure vulnerability assessment. Two new discretionary programs of interest are:
Community Climate Innovation Grants, which would provide $250 million per year to non-State applicants for highway, transit, and rail projects, provided they reduce GHGs.
Metro Performance Program. Provides a total of $750 million over the life of the bill for funding allocations directly to MPOs to carry out projects selected by the MPO.
Division B notably increases funding for public transportation. In FY2020, FTA received 12.6 billion but would climb to $22.8 billion by FY2025. This change is reflected in both HTF and General Fund transfers. In 2025, total funding provided from the HTF’s Mass Transit Account would be almost double the 2020 level. Capital Investment Grants would more than double, although CIG is funded from the General Fund.
INVEST in America does not take the transformative step of pioneering new sources of revenue for surface transportation. However, it does double funding for vehicle miles traveled pilot programs and establish a national VMT pilot program for both passenger and commercial vehicles.
HR 6770 Mobility Options, Resiliency, and Efficiency (MORE) through TDM Act (Lipinski, D-IL)
Each state and metropolitan planning organization must include Transportation Demand Management targets in the development of their long-range transportation plans. The bill directs USDOT to establish a program to encourage and assist the development and funding of TDM related projects. Additionally, DOT must provide grants to nonprofit institutions of higher education to establish and operate a university transportation center for research and development related to TDM.
HR 6780 Toll Credit Marketplace Act of 2020 (Pappas, D-NH)
This bill directs the USDOT to establish and implement a toll credit exchange pilot program to identify the extent of the demand to purchase toll credits, identify the cash price of toll credits through bilateral transactions between states, analyze the impact of the purchase or sale of toll credits on transportation expenditures, and identify any other repercussions
Monitored Bills List
The Texas Legislature is currently not in session. The US Congress bill list shows only bills with action since the last legislative update. If you need information on the bills being tracked, please contact Kyle Roy.
Recent Committee Hearings
On June 3rd, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing titled “The State of Transportation and Critical Infrastructure: Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The focus of the hearing was on both the human and economic toll taken on the transportation sector, particularly trucking and public transit, by COVID-19. The witness panel covered the many issues posed by COVID-19, which has disrupted supply chains, limited staff, and sent many workers home unemployed. Many transportation workers have gotten sick and some have died, and some members of the committee emphasized the need for better and more specific safety guidelines from DOT and the administration. The committee also discussed how transportation sector workers need access to proper personal protective equipment.
On June 4th, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing titled “Infrastructure: The Road to Recovery.” The committee met to discuss how infrastructure construction and repair projects could help to stimulate the economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 related economic downturn. The Senate's Transportation Infrastructure Act seeks to lower environmental review times and cut red tape in order to get projects to construction faster. The bill also emphasizes the need for repairs to bridges and dams, as well as pedestrian safety. The panel of experts differed on how infrastructure construction would immediately impact the current economic situation, but all agreed that an increase in surface transportation projects will have more long-term economic benefits.
On June 9th, the House Transportation Committee held a hearing titled “On the Front Lines: The Impacts of COVID-19 on Transportation Workers.” The committee heard from a panel of front line transportation workers and industry experts on the needed safety measures to protect both workers and passengers from COVID-19. The panel of witnesses agreed that requiring and enforcing the wearing of masks for users of all transportation services is needed. They also expressed the need for robust cleaning protocols, especially on buses and other forms of public transit. The committee also discussed ways public transit can safely reopen and promote itself as safe to use, which included publicizing all new safety measures.
Upcoming Committee Hearings
The US House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will meet on Wednesday, June 17, at 9 a.m. for a full markup of the INVEST in America Act, the House’s proposed surface transportation reauthorization bill.
There are no upcoming committee hearings.
To view Committee Hearings for the Texas Senate click here:
To view Committee Hearings for the Texas House click here: