WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx’s fiscal 2016 budget pitch to House Republican funding leaders fell flat, after several key lawmakers said they would not support the proposal.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), the chamber’s top transportation appropriator, called the $94.7 billion request for the next fiscal year, up from $72.6 billion this year, “fantasy.”
“I am amazed at the amount of work your staff has put into crafting these justifications for a budget that this Congress can in no way fulfill. I believe everyone on this subcommittee, and I’d venture most in Congress, believe our country needs a robust, viable and stable transportation infrastructure funding method,” Diaz-Balart told the secretary at a Feb. 26 hearing of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.
Diaz-Balart — who also was quick to dismiss the administration’s six-year, $478 billion Grow America transportation funding plan, calling it a “patch” — said he expects his subpanel to take up a transportation funding bill that matches the automatic spending levels in Congress known as budget sequestration.
“He’s blowing through the sequester limits, which is a law, whether we like it or not," Diaz-Balart told Transport Topics after the hearing.
The sequester levels are generally supported by Republican leaders but opposed by most Democrats and the Obama administration.
At the hearing, there was little mention of truck safety rules. Last year, Congress approved the suspension of a key part of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new HOS rule through a funding bill signed into law in December. That law expires Sept. 30.
Asked whether appropriators would again support the suspension of a key hours-of-service rule for truckers, Diaz-Balart said his office still was gathering information about the issue. “Those issues are issues, obviously, that the committee will look at, and we will have to deal with them, sure,” the chairman said.
Responding to the chairman, Foxx said the White House’s transportation proposal was hardly a short-term patch. The plan, which relies on certain corporate tax reforms to fund highway programs, is meant to address years of underinvestment in the country’s transportation system, he said. The Grow America Act calls for $478.26 billion in spending, or $79.71 billion a year, on average.
“The transportation enterprise, and the millions of jobs that come with it, has been thrown into a continuing period of uncertainty due to the numerous short-term spending ‘patches’ that we use to fund” highway programs, Foxx said.