hearing today to review the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) fiscal
year 2024 budget request, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Vice Chairman of the
Appropriations Committee, pressed Secretary Pete Buttigieg to explain why USDOT
has proposed to eliminate funding for RAISE grants and the Bridge Formula
Program. RAISE grants provide federal assistance for vital transportation
projects across the country, while the Bridge Formula Program is essential for
bridge rehabilitation and replacement, with funding prioritized for bridges in
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was enacted in 2021 significantly boosted
funding for both of these programs as part of a transformative and historic
investment in our nation’s roads, highways, bridges, airports, railroads, and
other infrastructure. This funding was intended to supplement—not
replace—regular appropriations. Senator Collins was a member
of the core group of 10 Senators who negotiated the infrastructure package.
Mr. Secretary, welcome. The Administration is
proposing once again to zero out important programs, like the Bridge Formula
Program. In fiscal year 2023, Congress provided more than $1 billion in
funding for the Bridge Formula Program, which benefits many rural states,
including my State of Maine. As you know, this is a program that was
created by this very subcommittee, and it has been very effective in
improving and replacing our nation’s deteriorating bridges. In
addition, as the Ranking Member has pointed out, the budget includes no
funding for the popular and effective RAISE grant program. This program too,
has been essential to roadway, bridge replacement and port projects across the
country, including in my State of Maine.
The budget request instead is shifting these
important programs to be funded solely by the Bipartisan Infrastructure [Law]
funding, rather than complementing annual appropriations. I was one of the ten
negotiators of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, and I can unequivocally state
that the funding from that historic law was intended to be supplemental. It was
not intended to supplant the regular appropriations. So, proposing to
eliminate the annual appropriations not only conflicts with clear congressional
intent, but also dilutes the impact and limits the breach of the program.
And I must say, the administration has been very quick to laud the Bipartisan
Infrastructure [Law] program [and] to take credit for its role in shaping it.
But now it’s submitted a budget that dilutes its impact. Can you explain
to me why you’re allowing for supplanting the funding, rather than following
Well, let me first associate myself with your
remarks about the RAISE program, which is both popular and highly effective.
And in my travels, in particular, as I visit communities where we’ve been able
to fund projects through that program, you can see the effect that it has.
Likewise, we continue to enthusiastically pursue the deployment of the funds
that that are available to us in the bridge program and others that were
contemplated, both in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and could be
subject to future opportunities for appropriation as well.
It’s of course challenging in any budget to make
sure that the top line conforms with the President’s and the public’s and the
Congress’s expectations about fiscal responsibility. We sought to strike that
balance in the right way, ensuring that there are additional funds for
projects, including in discretionary programs that we know are very sought
after across the country. But you have my commitment that our department
will continue, whether it’s RAISE, the bridge program, or others, to make the
absolute most of the funding that we have, by way of that advance appropriation
and continue the dialogue about how to make sure that needs are met,
balanced, of course, with the fiscal responsibility concerns that you all must
balance in your appropriating role.
the Chair and Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senators Patty
Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins are pressing forward with the work of writing
our nation’s spending bills as quickly as possible. Under their
leadership, the Senate Appropriations Committee is moving full steam ahead with
subcommittee hearings on the President’s budget—providing an important
opportunity to assess our country’s needs for the coming year and for every
appropriator to weigh in on the President’s budget.