President Barack Obama’s budget calls on Congress to pass a $556 billion, multiyear surface transportation funding plan that would include spending for Amtrak and highway repairs as well as an infrastructure bank, without offering a funding source.
The proposal would include $50 billion in the first year of the six-year plan to promote employment, the budget said. The infrastructure bank, which was allocated $30 billion over six years, would finance road and other projects.
The spending would be contingent on Congress passing legislation that would pay for the programs from trust funds rather than general funds. The budget assumes that an additional $48.3 million would flow during the year starting Oct. 1 into the funds, which are now financed by sales taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, while saying that the source of funds must be negotiated with Congress.
“This budget does nothing to move the ball forward; it moves the ball backward,” said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based policy advisory research group, and former chief of staff for President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. “This budget uses government spending as investment whereas what it should do is harness the private sector to do the true investment.”
The last surface transportation bill, which authorized $256 billion over six years, expired in 2008. Money for highway repairs has been funded through a series of extensions.
Combining Transportation Funds
Rolling all the surface transportation programs into one fund, which would be renamed the Transportation Trust Fund, allows more coordination between segments, said Robert Puentes, an analyst with the Washington-based Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public-policy organization.
The U.S. has a Federal Highway Administration, a Federal Transit Administration, a Federal Railroad Administration, among others, which all function under their own set of rules and programs, he said.
“The Administration wants to move the program away from the fragmented, compartmentalized system that we have today to something where you look at all of these modes holistically,” he said.
The budget also calls for expanding loan programs that could be used as seed money for infrastructure projects. The Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Program, or TIFIA, would be increased 18 percent to $2.34 billion, while funding for its guaranteed loan counterpart would double to $80 million.
States can use money from TIFIA as a down payment for additional private funding.