On Thursday afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.1 trillion funding bill for fiscal year (FY) 2015 by a vote of 219-206. The bill funds most of the government through September 2015. The House will also take steps to allow the Senate time to vote while avoiding a government shutdown at midnight tonight. The omnibus bill included many policy riders important to construction, including species protections and suspending elements of the truck-driver hours of service regulations.
Federal agency construction accounts will see a mixed bag of funding levels in 2015. Difficult fiscal times have resulted in deep cuts to some accounts—as is the case for military construction—while others remain flat when compared to FY 2014 levels. However, the bright spots remain with the Army Corps Civil Works and the General Services Administration construction programs. The total funding for federal construction accounts tracked by the Associated General Contractors is over $106 billion for FY 2015. This number represents a nearly $5 billion cut from FY 2014 levels. A complete run down of the accounts can be found here.
Below is a summary of the FY 2015 funding levels for some of the larger federal construction accounts.
The bill appropriated MAP-21 authorized levels of nearly $41 billion for the federal-aid highway program and nearly $9.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) through formula grants. FTA also saw an appropriation of $2.1 billion for the new starts program. The Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program is funded at $3.35 billion which is the same level as FY 2014. Amtrak ($1.1 billion) and TIGER grants ($500 million) saw funding cuts from FY 2014.
State Revolving Funds (SRF) for Clean Water and Drinking Water got a bit of good news in the bill – no cuts. The clean water SRF’s saw level funding from FY 2014 at $1.449 billion, as did drinking water SRF’s at $907 billion
Military construction accounts will be funded for FY 2015 generally along the lines of the president’s budget request, which called for steep cuts. Overall, military construction experiences a more than $3 billion (40 percent) cut in FY 2015 compared to FY 2014 levels. The Army will experience the deepest cut, as its construction funds are cut by over $575 million (52 percent) in this fiscal year. In addition, Congress continues to wind down the 1990 and 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) rounds’ funding, as Congress cuts a third of the funding—$136 million—for FY 2015. Additionally, funding is prohibited for any future BRAC rounds in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2015.
Corps Civil Works
The U.S. Army Corps Civil Works Program funding will remain steady and strong in FY 2015 at over $5 billion, among the highest level of funding through the annual appropriations process. The construction account funding of $1.639 billion is an increase of $514.5 million above the president’s budget request, including $112 million in additional funding for Inland Waterways Trust Fund projects. The operations and maintenance account is funded at $2.908.5 billion, $308.5 million above the president’s budget request and $47.5 million above FY 2014, including at least $42 million in additional funds for inland navigation. No less than $1.1 billion is provided from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, a $100 million increase.
General Services Administration
While the General Services Administration’s construction program experiences a $255 million cut in FY 2015 compared to FY 2014, the $1.3 billion for construction accounts is still more than the funding received in fiscal years 2011, 2012 and 2013 combined. The construction and acquisition account remains steady in FY 2015 at over $500 million. The reduction in FY 2015 comes largely from the major repairs and alterations account.
Of the potential environmental policy riders that were initially discussed as part of the appropriations deal, few made it over the finish line. AGC and the other members of the Waters Advocacy Coalition had been working to bring the provisions from the House-passed appropriations measures into the compromise bill. However, provisions blocking funding for the administration’s regulations on climate change and Clean Water Act jurisdiction, among the most controversial potential inclusions, ultimately failed to be included in the final legislation. What was included were provisions that would prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage-grouse as endangered or threatened and stop the service from working to implement protections for the Gunnison sage-grouse, which the agency listed as threatened last month. Industry groups and some western state governors have fought a potential listing for the sage-grouse, arguing that enacting federal protections for the birds' expansive territory would severely curtail construction and development in these areas, particularly for the oil and gas industries.
The funding bill also contains a provision that would suspend part of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) hours-of-service limits on truckers. The provision suspends the requirement that truck drivers must include two 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. off-duty periods during a consecutive 34-hour off-duty period before their weekly driving hours would restart. The provision also removes the once-per-week limit of the use of the restart. These two restrictions were part of the FMCSA hours-of-service rule that went into effect on July 1, 2013. The reset requirements have been a problem for trucking companies, including construction companies since they were imposed. Sen. Collins (R-Maine) included the language in the year-end funding bill because she believes that the requirement has the perverse effect of putting more trucks on the road during heavy traffic periods. AGC worked with a coalition of trucking interests in support of the Collins amendment.
The suspension is only in place through the end of FY 2015 and would have to be reinstated at that time unless the rules are changed. The provision calls for FMCSA to conduct a study of the operational, safety, health and fatigue aspects of the restart provisions in effect before and after July 1, 2013 and report to the House and Senate Committees. AGC will be providing information to the FMCSA concerning the impact of the reset rule on construction industry drivers.