Price Remarks at T-HUD Full Committee Markup
Ranking Member David Price
Appropriations Committee Markup of the FY 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Bill
July 17, 2017
Mr. Chairman, as I did last week, I want to begin by thanking you for the open process you have led this year. You have continued to accommodate both Republican and Democratic members whenever possible, and I have enjoyed working with you.
As you just mentioned, this year’s bill includes $56.5 billion for critical transportation, housing, and community development programs at DOT, HUD, and related agencies. This represents a $1.1 billion reduction compared to last year’s level. As I stated last week, this allocation is woefully inadequate. Mr. Chairman, you were dealt a very difficult hand.
This bill is a reflection of the budget straitjacket in which the majority has placed us—causing self-inflicted damage, both to the appropriations process and the country. The great irony is that despite all the chest-thumping, the majority’s approach fails to address the real drivers of the deficit. Republican budgets—at least when they are able to pass them out of Committee—have focused deficit reduction efforts almost entirely on domestic appropriations. It is truly the worst of both worlds: we don’t significantly reduce the deficit, but we do untold damage to critical national investments.
The bill before us today is a prime example. The TIGER program is completely eliminated despite the high demand for its competitive grant funding. Capital Investment Grants, more commonly referred to as the New Starts program, is cut by almost 25 percent or $659 million below last year’s level. While the bill includes language to ensure FTA continues to rate and review projects in the grant pipeline, this lower funding level threatens the progress and viability of major transit projects around the country.
Meanwhile, housing and community development programs fare no better. Community Development Block Grants and the HOME program, both lauded by local elected officials around the country for their flexibility and effectiveness, are each cut by $100 million. The Section 4 Capacity Building Program utilized by Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits to expand their reach receives a $5 million cut.
I am also concerned the bill fails to provide adequate funding to extend the life of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. Because it is an independent third party, the Council can look across various agencies of government and find ways to improve the delivery of housing services for those experiencing homelessness. Local service providers across the country report that the Council is an invaluable resource that bolsters their work.
On the brighter side, the bill provides adequate if not expansive funding for most of HUD’s core housing programs; sustains basic safety activities at DOT; and offers modest funding increases for critical accounts at the Federal Aviation Administration to accelerate NextGen implementation.
Increased funding for NextGen activities reflects the strong bipartisan consensus within the Appropriations Committee that we must continue providing the resources necessary to strengthen and modernize the air traffic control system. This consensus is sorely lacking on the authorizing committee. Republicans chose to advance a partisan and controversial plan that, if implemented, 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.
Also, I want to thank the Chairman for including $20 million for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. Funding this program nominally in the base bill will give us a chance to improve this number as the process moves forward.
The bright spots in the bill, however, cannot paper over its fundamental flaw: the 302(b) allocation. While one could rearrange the funding levels in this bill to address one or several of the key areas I have mentioned, there is no way to sufficiently address all of the gaps throughout the bill.
We are in the midst of a housing crisis in this country. Millions of Americans struggle to pay rent as wages fail to rise as quickly as housing costs. Our infrastructure continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate, causing congestion on our roads, delays at our airports, and bottlenecks at our ports. Deferring these necessary investments will only cost us more in future years. The bill before us fails to provide the bold investments necessary to modernize and upgrade our nation’s transportation and housing infrastructure.
In fact, we cannot write credible appropriations bills that have any chance of becoming law until we have a new bipartisan budget agreement. The majority’s apparent plan to quickly move this bill and others to the House floor next week does not alter this fact.
Finally, I must register my strong objections to several controversial policy riders that unnecessarily attack high speed rail, roll back transportation safety for the traveling public, and harm labor rights. I plan to offer an amendment to strip these riders, which have no place in this bill.
In its current form, the bill before us represents a step in the wrong direction. However, I remain hopeful that a new bipartisan budget deal will be reached that makes it possible to eventually revise this legislation to garner bipartisan support. I look forward to working with the Chairman toward this end in the months ahead. Thank you.