Price statement at subcommittee markup of 2018 Transportation-HUD bill
Mr. Chairman, before I begin I want to thank you again for the collaborative process you have led during the formulation of this bill. You continue to be accessible and receptive to concerns that subcommittee Members have raised. It has been a pleasure working with you.
As you have already stated, this year’s mark includes $56.5 billion for vital transportation, housing, and community development programs at DOT, HUD, and related agencies. Unfortunately, this represents a funding decrease of more than $1.1 billion compared to the recently enacted omnibus. The Chairman was dealt a very difficult hand, and as a result, we are not investing enough in our housing and transportation infrastructure to maintain it, let alone expand it.
Despite the unfavorable allocation, most core housing programs—including the 202 program for the elderly and the 811 program for the disabled—will receive modest funding increases to ensure those who currently receive assistance can remain housed.
On the transportation side, key safety programs at the modal agencies are adequately funded, and the Federal Aviation Administration received targeted funding increases in various accounts to help accelerate NextGen implementation. I want to point out that the bipartisan efforts of this Committee to strengthen and modernize the air traffic control system, all while ensuring safety, remain paramount. This is in stark contrast to the partisan and controversial plan being advanced by Republicans on the authorizing Committee, which would jeopardize NextGen’s progress and hand over federal assets and control of the skies to private industry.
The mark also includes a significant $475 million increase for the Federal Railroad Administration’s Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair program, which will jump-start critical infrastructure improvement projects within the national rail system. I hope this is intended to be more than just a one-time infusion of funding for programs of national significance.
Unfortunately, that’s about where the good news ends. Despite these bright spots, as a result of our unworkable allocation this mark makes cuts to vital capital programs within DOT and HUD—programs that create jobs and spur economic growth.
At DOT, funding for the highly competitive and popular TIGER program is zeroed out, despite the overwhelming need for additional infrastructure investment. Republican and Democratic mayors and governors across the country are clamoring for more TIGER grants—it seems the program’s only fault, in the view of its critics, is that it was established by President Obama.
The Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program, often referred to as New Starts, receives a cut of $659 million, though I’m very appreciative the Chairman included bill language to ensure FTA continues to rate and review projects in the New Starts pipeline.
At HUD, the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative that has transformed dozens of public housing developments into thriving mixed-income communities would only receive $20 million, compared to $137.5 million last year. I am grateful the Chairman has included this placeholder amount, and I look forward to working with him to improve this number as the process moves forward.
Also on the housing side of the ledger, the Community Development Block Grants and the HOME program are each cut by $100 million despite calls from local elected officials across the country to preserve these important funding streams. Meanwhile, the Section 4 Capacity Building Program utilized by Habitat for Humanity and other reputable nonprofits receives a $5 million cut.
While simply funding these programs represents a rebuke of the Trump Administration, we should not use the draconian Trump budget as a baseline for anything other than a warped vision of America. We are in the midst of a national housing crisis—only one in four people eligible for federal rental assistance can receive it—and we still have a massive public housing capital backlog. Our infrastructure continues to crumble, resulting in decaying highways and bridges and congested roads and airports. We should be increasing our commitment to these housing and transportation programs, not making cuts.
While the Chairman is doing the best he can under the circumstances, the real culprit is the complete failure by Congress to address the main drivers of the deficit: tax expenditures and entitlement spending. Instead, we have returned again and again to appropriations, and especially critical domestic investments, to bear the whole brunt of deficit reduction. The result is a disaster for our economy and for the work of most of our appropriations subcommittees. It is truly the worst of both worlds: we don’t significantly reduce the deficit, but we do untold damage to critical national investments.
We should not pretend that these bills as currently written have the resources necessary to meet our challenges as a nation. The majority’s inability to enact a budget resolution – the most basic act of governing – coupled with a plan to push forward with all twelve appropriations bills without bipartisan buy-in on overall spending levels will surely result in yet another scramble at the end of the year, with the only question being whether we shut down the government, kick the can down the road with another Continuing Resolution, or salvage some semblance of our constitutional responsibilities by passing another omnibus.
Finally, I am strongly opposed to several controversial policy riders that were attached to this bill that unnecessarily attack high speed rail, roll back transportation safety for the traveling public, and harm labor rights. Mr. Chairman, although I do not intend to offer amendments to the subcommittee mark, I do want to point out that this bill faces many hurdles in order to garner bipartisan support.
I remain hopeful however that a multi-year bipartisan budget agreement can be reached that would allow this bill and others to be vastly improved. I look forward to continued collaboration with you to achieve that goal in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Thank you.