House Appropriators Leave TIGER, HSR Out of Next Year’s Budget

It’s always confusing when, in the middle of endless bicameral hand-wringing about transportation spending, the House Appropriations Committee puts out a budget for transportation without much ado.

The White House vision for high-speed rail -- still a fantasy under the 112th Congress. Source: White House

That’s what they did today. The Transportation and HUD Subcommittee will vote tomorrow on its draft budget, released today, in preparation to send it to the full Appropriations Committee.

The bill flatlines highway spending at $39.1 billion and transit spending at $8 billion, as did the Senate appropriations proposal, but allows those levels to change, depending on what happens with the reauthorization. It cuts $69 million from last year’s U.S. DOT budget, with an even bigger bite — $181 million — out of the Federal Transit Administration budget. It cuts $138 million from the transit New Starts program, or “Capital Investment Grants,” in the language of the bill, including Small Starts.

So, while Americans continue to struggle with high gas prices and few transportation options, the House wants to make it harder to expand access to transit.

High-speed rail? Zero.

Oh, and TIGER, the ever-popular, oversubscribed grant program for innovative transportation projects? Zilch.

Don’t even ask about the groundbreaking Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which has the EPA, HUD, and U.S. DOT working in cooperation to foster more efficient — and fiscally prudent — development and growth.

The Senate, seeing which way the wind is blowing, allocated just $100 million for high-speed rail in FY2013, a sort of placeholder that keeps the program on life support until it can get back to making real, transformational grants. Not even that paltry amount made it into the final House budget this year.

The Senate included $500 million in its FY2013 budget for TIGER, the same as last year, and a mere $50 million for the HUD Office of Sustainable Communities, which makes the grants for the inter-agency partnership. The Partnership’s funding has dwindled from $150 million in 2010 to $100 million in 2011 to nothing at all last year. Sounds good to the House.

In the THUD budget, the Federal Railroad Administration gets a small bump to $2 billion, of which $1.8 million is for Amtrak, mostly for capital improvements. That’s nearly half a billion dollars above last year’s level, and $400 billion higher than even the Senate requested. However, the House budget cuts $116 million from Amtrak’s operations budget, which the Senate would boost by about $10 million.

The House subcommittee also includes policy “reforms” for Amtrak, like requiring overtime limits and prohibiting federal funding for routes where Amtrak offers a discount of 50 percent or more off peak fares.