The fiscal 2014 appropriations round is picking up steam on Capitol Hill, and initial House numbers for the closely watched transportation sector show winners and losers among construction programs.

In a quick session on June 19, lasting only about 20 minutes, the House appropriations subcommittee responsible for the Depts. of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development cleared its fiscal 2014 bill for full committee action.
(Summary, link to bill text.)

Subcommittee Chairman Tom Latham (R-Iowa) said “tough choices” had to be made, but he added that one of the priorities was funding surface transportation programs at levels authorized for 2014 in last year’s Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).

Thus, Latham’s bill stuck to the $41-billion highway obligation limit MAP-21 authorized for 2014. That’s a $557-million boost from 2013’s enacted amount.

For the Federal Transit Administration, the bill includes MAP-21’s $8.6 billion from the Highway Trust Fund’s mass transit account, but it cuts FTA programs financed by the general fund. For example, FTA’s Capital Investment Grant program receives $1.8 billion, down $11 million from the post-sequester 2013 level.

The subcommittee also allocated $3.35 billion for Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program construction grants, the amount last year’s FAA authorization measure provided for AIP in 2014.

Other DOT accounts didn’t fare well. The bill has no funds for DOT’s popular TIGER grant program, which helps finance a range of highway, bridge and other projects. The 2013 TIGER round drew 568 applications seeking a total of $9 billion, but DOT only has $474 million to award.

The House subcommittee bill also targeted high-speed rail, which would get no money for 2014.

Among HUD programs, community development block grants—which finance a range of activities, including infrastructure—were hit hard. The subcommittee bill provides $1.6 billion, down 42% from the post-sequester 2013 level.

Subcommittee Democrats criticized the cuts, but went along with Latham’s request to hold off on offering amendments until the full committee takes up the bill, on June 27.

Their criticism wasn’t directed at the affable Latham, a veteran appropriator, but at the overall $967-billion ceiling the full committee had to work with for all fiscal 2014 domestic discretionary spending. That sum, derived from the House-passed budget resolution, is down from the $1.07-trillion discretionary total set in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

In divvying up the $967 billion, Republicans have chosen to favor defense programs over nondefense accounts. Some of the resulting painful cuts fell on transportation and HUD programs.

Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the full committee’s top Democrat, said the overall allocation was “unworkable from the start.” She added, “It forced impossible choices.”

The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Ed Pastor (Ariz.), said, “I have great concerns with this bill as it is currently written.” He added, “I am hopeful we can achieve a more realistic allocation as the appropriation process moves forward.”

The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to be more generous to transportation and housing than the House has been so far.

On a party line vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 20 approved Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski's allocations for the panel's 12 subcommittees. The committee also approved its first two fiscal 2014 bills—military construction-veterans affairs and agriculture.

The Maryland Democrat is using an overall discretionary-spending ceiling of $1.058 trillion, which give the committee $91 billion more to work with than House appropriators have.         

Mikulski also announced that her committee will take up the DOT-HUD and energy-water programs bills on June 27.

Still, if there is a wide gap between the eventual House and Senate spending levels, another stopgap, omnibus spending package is likely when fiscal 2014 begins on Oct. 1. What the final spending numbers will be for construction and other programs is anybody's guess at this point.

Updated 6/20/13 to include Senate Appropriations Committee actions.