Congress is back in session after a long August recess, and is moving forward on its regular slate of funding bills and hearings. Even though the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a transportation bill with significant investments in biking and walking and safety, we have not yet seen action in any of the other Committees that must consider the bill for it to keep moving forward.
Something we are keeping close watch on this fall are rescissions. One of the gimmicks Congress used to balance the spending in the last transportation bill, the FAST Act, was to build in a rescission, which is a mechanism the federal government uses to take back unspent funds. Next July, states will have to return $7.6 billion in unallocated transportation money to the federal government.
Even though the rescission is nine months away, the amount of the cut each state will suffer, along with which programs it is allocated against, will be determined based on unobligated funds as of September 30, 2019. (Obligation basically means that a state has contracted to spend those dollars).
Because most states are more aggressive at obligating funding for road projects than for biking and walking, the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) is likely to lose a significant chunk of funding—an estimated $1 billion. The rescission is so large that most states will lose nearly all remaining transportation funds across all programs. We are likely to see states holding back on holding new TAP competitions (as well as other transportation projects) until either a new transportation law is passed (with new funding included) or the rescission is cancelled.
Due to various fiscal procedures, it is easier for Congress to cancel the rescission this month, before it is effectively locked in. Yet, in spite of urging from dozens of national transportation organizations, Congress has not acted to do so.
Rescissions are yet another way in which biking and walking investments can be curtailed. This is why we continue to urge advocates around the country to work with their state departments of transportation to max out the obligation of TAP funds, which would protect them from rescissions. We will share the impact of the rescissions on TAP as soon as the calculations are ready – likely late October or early November.