President Trump asked Congress Nov. 17 to appropriate another $44 billion in supplemental disaster aid that includes funds for storm-damaged transportation systems, but would help offset that new spending by stripping $1 billion from normal federal-aid highway funds.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney submitted the lengthy budget request that seeks funding to pay for damage to facilities for a number of executive departments.
Added to earlier disaster-aid legislation that totaled more than $50 billion, this one would put the federal costs for this year’s series of unusually severe events close to $100 billion. And Mulvaney indicated that additional funding would be needed for relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where “damage assessments are ongoing.”
Among other provisions, the administration requested $415.5 million for the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief program, saying the money “is needed for the repair, protection and reconstruction of federal-aid highways, roads and bridges damaged by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.”
It asked for $198.5 million for the Federal Transit Administration’s public transportation emergency relief program, to pay “for restoration of damaged capital assets such as buses and shelters, ferry terminals and rail system stations” affected by those storms.
And it requested $71.9 million in emergency supplemental funds for the Federal Aviation Administration to pay for hurricane damage to FAA-owned facilities and equipment such as air traffic control roofs, approach lighting systems at airports, electrical equipment, radars and navigational aids.
The White House proposed that Congress make more than $59 billion in budget cuts across federal agencies as offsets for the emergency costs.
Of that, it proposed rescinding $1 billion of federal-aid highways funds that go to state departments of transportation on a formula basis to help pay for road and bridge projects.
The administration said recipients of federal contract authority have “a four-year period of availability that allows states flexibility in long-term planning for transportation infrastructure projects.” The proposal would take back $1 billion in prior-year contract authority that DOTs have not yet obligated, although the White House said that “states will continue to have sufficient federal aid balances to meet their construction plans for 2018.”
As a comparison, such a rescission would be twice the size of the annual pool of infrastructure grant funds that Congress sets aside for the TIGER program, which helps fund various types of transportation projects.
The board of directors of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has also called on Congress to halt a pattern in recent years of trying to rescind highway program contract authority to help offset other budget costs, saying this can disrupt and delay needed projects.