By Ben Husch
Congress enacted, and the president signed, the Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2020, and Further Health Extenders Act of 2019 on Nov. 21.
While that is a mouthful, what the title does not reference is a huge win for states with the repeal of a previously enacted $7.6 billion recession of federal transportation funding. The rescission, originally mandated by the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST Act, to occur in July 2020, was on tap to create two significant problems for states.
First and most obvious, the rescission would have forced states to hand back funding to the federal government that they had contracted out for road and highway projects. This problem was further exacerbated by news from the Federal Highway Administration in November that states’ unobligated balances subject to the rescission were only $5.35 billion, meaning that a further $2 billion would have been withheld during fiscal year (FY) 2020.
Second, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) stated that if the repeal was still in place in January 2020, it would have to include the repeal as part of its next long-term forecast, commonly referred to as CBO’s Baseline. Due to congressional budget rules, its inclusion would have lowered the FY 2020 baseline for federal transportation to states by $7.6 billion—$46.4 billion to $38.8 billion. A reduction of the FY 2020 baseline would have made it significantly harder, due to offset requirements, to return to its previous level, let alone increase federal funding.
Earlier this year, NCSL joined the National Governors Association, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials and state Department of Transportation leaders to urge Congress to undo the rescission.
Following a campaign of many staff-level meetings, letters to congressional leadership and direct lobbying from state legislative leaders, members of Congress enacted the repeal. The repeal headed off a potentially dangerous situation for planned roadway construction and maintenance and paved the way for the next reauthorization of surface federal transportation programs in FY 2020.
Ben Husch is federal affairs counsel in NCSL’s Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee.