Transportation and infrastructure take center stage in President Obama's 2016 budget proposal


President Obama released his proposal for the fiscal year (FY) 2016 federal budget yesterday, and if passed, it would be an enormous help to communities looking to grow in better, more economically vibrant ways.

Most notably the proposal includes significant investment in transportation and infrastructure programs (there’s even a photo of a bridge on the cover). Building on the Administration’s GROW AMERICA Act, the budget proposes $94.7 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Transportation and sweeping improvements to its programs as part of a six-year, $478 billion surface transportation reauthorization. That would be a $176 billion increase over the last authorization, and $76 billion more than the four-years of funding proposed in the GROW AMERICA Act last spring.

Included in the proposed reauthorization is $51 billion in highway spending authority, and permanent authorization of the competitive TIGER grant program at $1.25 billion for the coming fiscal year, as part of the Highway Trust Fund. The proposal would also increase transit funding by 75 percent to $18.2 billion, including $10.2 million for the TOD planning grant program. The proposal would establish a rail account and a multimodal account within the Highway Trust Fund, and allocate $4.7 billion and $1.25 billion to each, respectively. It would provide $2.45 billion to maintain passenger rail assets, and would create a multimodal freight program funded at $1 billion. It would also establish an Interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Center at USDOT, with $8 million to improve permitting in a number of ways.

To pay for all of this, the budget proposes a mandatory 14 percent tax on what is around $2 trillion in foreign held earnings by U.S. multinational corporations (estimated to bring in $238 billion). After the mandatory tax, the repatriated tax on foreign held earning would be 19 percent. This funding strategy is gaining support among both Democrats and Republicans in both chambers of Congress, who increasingly agree that they cannot continue to avoid passing a multi-year transportation funding mechanism. However, disagreements exist among the various repatriation proposals sitting in the Congress, and none of them propose as high of a rate as the President’s.

The budget also lays out $8.6 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (up from $8.1 billion enacted in FY 2015). That includes $189 million for the EPA’s Brownfields program (up from $153 million enacted in FY 2015), and $50 million for technical assistance, training, and other efforts to enhance the capacity of communities and states to plan and finance drinking water and wastewater infrastructure improvements.

And at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the budget proposes $49.3 billion in discretionary funding that would include improvements to the Community Development Block Grant program, $250 million for the Choice Neighborhoods program, a new $300 million Local Housing Policy Grants program. The Budget also proposes a new initiative, the Upward Mobility Project, which would allow communities to combine block grant funds designed to promote opportunity and economic development and reduce poverty.

The president’s budget proposal also includes $2.72 billion for the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, which supports a diverse suite of sustained investment in development of sustainable transportation technologies and energy efficient buildings.

Ultimately, these proposals would be an incredible boon to American communities…if the House and Senate were to adopt them. The good news is that there is broad bipartisan support for many of the programs outlined here. We look forward to working with legislators on both side of the aisle and in both chambers as they work to agree on program funding for the next fiscal year.