Senate GOP Infrastructure Bill Is Inclusive Of, Not In Addition To, Ongoing Program Spending

Senate GOP Infrastructure Bill Is Inclusive Of, Not In Addition To, Ongoing Program Spending

April 23, 2021  | Jeff Davis

Senate Republicans this week released an outline of a five-year, $568 billion framework for spending on traditional sectors of public infrastructure – the various modes of transportation infrastructure plus drinking water and wastewater, water storage, and broadband internet infrastructure (though not the electrical grid). But unlike President Biden’s plan, which included around $800 billion for these traditional forms of infrastructure, the GOP plan includes ongoing “baseline” spending. The Biden plan is purported to be in addition to baseline spending levels (though we are waiting for the full fiscal 2022 budget to verify that).

(The two-page GOP proposal says that the $65 billion in broadband funding is all “above baseline,” implying that the rest of the money for other modes of infrastructure is not.)

Setting aside the non-transportation elements of the GOP plan (and the port element because we are not sure how much of the GOP proposal is Corps of Engineers vs how much is USDOT Maritime Administration), here is how the plans stack up, if the Biden “American Jobs Plan” is really all above-baseline spending, in billions of dollars:

Baseline Senate GOP Biden Plan
Roads and Bridges 260.5 299.0 383.5
Mass Transit 68.8 61.0 178.8
Intercity Rail 15.3 20.0 95.3
Safety 10.8 13.0 22.8
Airports 19.9 44.0 39.7
Total, These Modes 375.3 437.0 720.1

(There is a lot more spending in the Biden plan that would take place at DOT, like the aforementioned MARAD spending, additional grant programs in the Secretary’s office, air traffic control, equity programs, and resilience programs, but this analysis is limited to the Senate GOP plan and the parts of the Biden plan that are directly comparable to it.)

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (D-WV), ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said “…it’s important that any infrastructure legislation have adequate funding levels and not be so large as to fail to launch, which means sticking to actual infrastructure. That’s why our framework works. It serves as a realistic, thoughtful approach that addresses the core areas of infrastructure that we all agree upon.”

Aside from the spending levels, the Republican plan states that funding should “Flow through existing formula programs and proven discretionary programs,” which is the opposite of the Biden AJP approach in many high-profile instances.

And the GOP plan says that Congress should “Cover the cost of the infrastructure bills to avoid increasing the debt” and “Shore up any infrastructure-related trust fund that is facing a revenue shortfall,” but it does not suggest any specific revenue increases to do so (aside from making sure that all users of certain types of infrastructure, especially electric vehicles, pay something towards their infrastructure use). The principle of EVs paying something into the Highway Trust Fund was actually a key implicit assumption of the highway bill approved unanimously by the EPW Committee two years ago – in exchange for Republicans allowing Trust Fund money to be spent on EV charging stations, the principle would have to be established that EVs have to pay something into the Trust Fund for their road use. But the dollars raised would be de minimis for at least a few more years.

(The GOP plan does say that unused federal spending should be repurposed as one of the pay-fors of the plan, but historically, Republicans have had a hard time getting a good budget score on repurposing prior appropriations to mitigate the deficit impact of new spending.)

The Senate GOP plan was widely (and predictably) panned by Democrats as being insufficient.

Regarding the baseline, there are some indications that the Biden Administration is playing budget games with its infrastructure spending on Corps of Engineers harbor and inland waterway programs – providing extra money in the American Jobs Plan that is supposed to be “above baseline” while cutting ongoing funding in the regular budget by an equivalent amount below what was supposed to be spent. We are taking the Administration at its word that the rest of the money for transportation in the AJP is above baseline, but it would be nice to have the actual, full multi-year budget proposal so we can see for certain.

Here is how the Senate GOP plan spending compares to the Congressional Budget Office’s February 2021 baseline spending projections (the “WIDI” baseline, which means with discretionary inflation built in each year, inflating actual fiscal 2021 appropriations by about 2 percent each year moving forward). Analysis is in millions of dollars and is done by mode, in order of how favorable the Senate GOP plan is versus that baseline.

Airports

Airports FY22 FY23 FY24 FY25 FY26
CBO Baseline:
FAA Airport Improv. Program. AATF ObLim 3,415 3,484 3,557 3,636 3,715
FAA Airport Improv. Program. GF Approp. 408 416 425 434 443
Total, Baseline Airport Budgetary Resources 3,823 3,900 3,982 4,070 4,158
5-Year Baseline Total 19,933
5-Year Senate GOP Total 44,000
Increase Over Baseline +24,067
+121%

The Senate GOP plan is indeed a bonanza for the nation’s airports, with spending more than doubling the anticipated baseline levels (121 percent of baseline). This is almost ten percent more than the Biden plan (if the Biden plan is measured against five years of ongoing spending, which is not completely certain). This is apparently based on the FAA’s September 2020 national airport plan update, which identified “$43.6 billion in costs associated with capital development projects needed between 2021 and 2025 that are AIP eligible and do not have funding sources identified.”

The gap between actual AIP (Airport Improvement Program) funding under the Senate GOP bill versus the Biden bill is actually even more sharp. The Biden plan only gives $10 billion to AIP (a program that is restricted by law to supporting “airside” airport projects like runways, taxiways, lighting, and safety. The Biden plan would also give another $10 billion to a new “groundside” airport program for terminal expansion and intermodal connections to ground transportation, which are not AIP-eligible.

Rail

Rail FY22 FY23 FY24 FY25 FY26
CBO Baseline:
FRA Amtrak – NEC Grants GF Approp. 713 727 742 758 774
FRA Amtrak – NN Grants GF Approp. 1,325 1,351 1,378 1,408 1,438
Amtrak Inspector General GF Approp. 25 26 27 27 28
FRA Fed-State SOGR Grants GF Approp. 204 208 212 217 221
FRA CRISI Grants GF Approp. 382 390 398 406 415
FRA Restor./Enhance. Grants GF Approp. 5 5 5 5 6
FRA Maglev Grants GF Approp. 2 2 2 2 2
FRA Safety & Operations GF Approp. 242 249 257 265 274
FRA Railroad R&D GF Approp. 42 43 43 44 45
Total, Baseline FRA/IG Budgetary Resources 2,940 3,001 3,064 3,132 3,203
5-Year Baseline Total 15,340
5-Year Senate GOP Total 20,000
Increase Over Baseline +4,660
+30%

The Senate GOP plan would give intercity railroad programs $4.7 billion, or 30 percent, more than the CBO baseline spending projects over five years. However, the Biden plan is supposedly an astounding $80 billion above baseline.

Safety

Safety Programs FY22 FY23 FY24 FY25 FY26
CBO Baseline:
FMCSA Operations & Programs HTF ObLim 337 347 357 368 380
FMCSA Safety Grants HTF ObLim 428 436 445 455 465
NHTSA Operations & Research GF Approp. 216 221 227 233 239
NHTSA Operations & Research HTF ObLim 158 162 166 170 175
NHTSA Safety Grants HTF ObLim 635 647 660 675 689
PHMSA Operational Expenses GF Approp. 30 31 31 32 33
PHMSA Hazardous Materials GF Approp. 64 65 67 69 71
PHMSA Pipeline Safety GF/TF Approp. 171 176 179 184 188
PHMSA Emergency Preparedness EPS ObLim 28 28 28 28 28
Total, Baseline FMCSA/NHTSA/PHMSA 2,067 2,113 2,160 2,214 2,268
5-Year Baseline Total 10,822
5-Year Senate GOP Total 13,000
Increase Over Baseline +2,178
+20%

The Senate plan would give the three surface transportation safety agencies (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) a collective $2.2 billion increase over baseline levels over five years, a 20 percent boost. The Biden plan is tough to compare with – it promises $20 billion above baseline for safety programs, but $8 billion of that is for the existing Highway Safety Improvement Program that is in the Federal Highway Administration budget. And since FHWA is one big monster budget account, we can’t pull individual programs out of the baseline, so for purposes of this analysis we are moving $8 billion of the Biden “Safety” spending under its “Roads and Bridges” funding so we can compare FMCSA/NHTSA/PHMSA apples-to-apples.

From that perspective, the Biden plan is $12 billion over baseline, which is still a lot more than the Senate GOP’s $2.2 billion over baseline.

Roads and Bridges

Roads and Bridges FY22 FY23 FY24 FY25 FY26
CBO Baseline:
FHWA Federal-Aid Highways HTF ObLim 47,252 48,185 49,165 50,239 51,313
FHWA Federal-Aid Highways HTF Exempt CA 739 739 739 739 739
FHWA Highway Infra. Programs GF Approp. 2,038 2,078 2,120 2,166 2,212
Total, Baseline FHWA Budgetary Resources 50,029 51,002 52,024 53,144 54,264
5-Year Baseline Total, FHWA 260,463
5-Year Senate GOP Total 299,000
Increase Over Baseline +38,537
+15%

The Senate GOP plan would put $299 billion towards roads and bridges, an increase of $38.5 billion, or 15 percent, above the current baseline. The baseline spending was already going to require an additional $52 billion in additional Highway Trust Fund revenues for its Highway Account to keep the account solvent for five years, and the outlays from that additional $38.5 billion should dig that revenue hole at least $20 billion deeper (depending on how fast the spending increases).

Public Transit

Public Transit FY22 FY23 FY24 FY25 FY26
CBO Baseline:
FTA Transit Formula Grants HTF ObLim 10,343 10,546 10,759 10,992 11,226
FTA Administrative Expenses GF Approp. 125 128 132 137 141
FTA Tech. Assist. & Training GF Approp. 8 8 8 9 9
FTA Capital Invest. Grants GF Approp. 2,052 2,093 2,135 2,181 2,227
FTA Transit Infra. Grants GF Approp. 526 536 547 559 571
FTA Grants to WMATA GF Approp. 153 156 159 162 166
Total, Baseline FTA Budgetary Resources 13,207 13,467 13,740 14,040 14,340
5-Year Baseline Total 68,794
5-Year Senate GOP Total 61,000
Increase Over Baseline -7,794
-11%

If you have been watching the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee lately, you haven’t seen much support for mass transit from the panel’s Republican members. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Senate GOP is proposing to cut federal mass transit spending by 11 percent below the CBO baseline (a $7.8 billion cut over five years). The Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund is already facing a $23 billion cash shortfall over the nexts five years just to pay for the baseline spending levels of the Transit Formula Grants account, so even if the $7.8 billion in cuts are taken entirely from that account, it won’t come close to fixing the Transit Account’s imbalance.

(The hostility is at least partly due to the sense that a lot of transit agencies, particularly smaller agencies, may have gotten significantly more emergency funding in the name of COVID than they needed to cover all of their COVID-related costs and revenue losses.)

NOTE: This article was updated on May 1, 2021 to correct an $0.2 billion typographical error in baseline Airport Improvement Program spending.)

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