Obama Signs Spending Law; FMCSA Gets More Funding

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On paper, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and other highway safety agencies will see funding increases in the 2014 appropriations bill Congress recently approved.

Given new enforcement duties and general inflation, however, the funding will not go far, transportation officials said.

The $1 trillion government spending law was signed by President Obama on Jan. 17, eliminating the possibility of another spending impasse such as the one that led to a 16-day partial government shutdown in October.

FMCSA’s allocation is $585 million, an increase of $24 million from 2013.

FMCSA officials did not respond to questions last week about how they’ll allocate the money, but those who enforce truck safety laws said they’re not getting additional dollars.

“The funding has been pretty much flat lined the last several years,” said Stephen Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

CVSA is the organization of state police agencies through which FMCSA dollars are passed to the states to enforce safety laws.

The appropriations bill contains $313 million in FMCSA funding for CVSA, the same amount as 2013 and not enough to adequately pay for Compliance, Safety, Accountability, the comprehensive safety program FMCSA began in 2010, Keppler said.

“The buying power of the dollar is not what it used to be, and there’s continuing new requirements [on states] to deliver on their commercial vehicle safety programs,” he said. “Without increases in funding, something’s going to have to suffer if we want to achieve the results that are expected.”

The House subcommittee on highways and transit will hold a hearing Jan. 28 to examine federal safety grant programs and what changes may be needed to reduce fatalities and crashes.

CVSA’s president, New York State Police Sgt. Thomas Fuller, is among those scheduled to testify.

The appropriations bill, which expires at the end of this fiscal year — Sept. 30 — provides $41 billion in funding for highway building, maintenance and safety programs. That maintains the spending level that Congress agreed to in the two-year MAP-21 transportation reauthorization legislation approved in 2012.

However, MAP-21 also expires Sept. 30, and officials have said the Highway Trust Fund could be insolvent before then.

“In August, the Highway Trust Fund may start bouncing checks,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told the annual gathering of the Transportation Research Board earlier this month.

The trust fund is supported by federal taxes on motor fuels, but revenues have been shrinking as Americans drive less and vehicles become more fuel efficient. To stave off insolvency, Congress has been transferring money from the general fund to the trust fund, which also helps support public transit programs.

The appropriations bill contains $8.6 billion in state and local transit grants from the Mass Transit Account, which is part of the Highway Trust Fund. Under federal law,

1 cent of the diesel and gasoline tax goes into the transit account.

Funding for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration also was increased. The spending level is at $214.1 million for fiscal 2014, up $12.8 million from the previous year.

For the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there is an increase of $8.9 million over its 2013 appropriation of $810.1 million.