Thank you, Chairman Collins. Let me again compliment you and your staff for working with me, my staff, and the other committee members year after year to produce such strong bipartisan bills.
Secretary Chao, let me also join in welcoming you. I look forward to your testimony.
As Congress begins to develop 2020 appropriations, the reauthorization of our surface transportation programs, and potentially a broader infrastructure package, I believe our 2018 and 2019 T-HUD bills should be the baseline from which new transportation investments should grow.
In the face of a proposed $58 billion cut in total non-defense funding, the Department of Transportation got off lightly in the President’s budget request in comparison to other agencies. However, I think we can all agree that the request still falls short of addressing the severe infrastructure deficiencies we face as a nation and backslides from the investments we made in 2019.
If we are to pass T-HUD and the other 11 appropriations bills this year, we will need to set aside the Administration’s cuts and start with a new multi-year budget agreement that builds on the last Bipartisan Budget Act. Such an agreement must provide additional funding to meet the needs of the nation, as well as parity between defense and non-defense discretionary spending.
I believe that such an agreement can be reached easily and that appropriations bills can move forward in regular order...provided that the Administration does not engage in the same kind of brinkmanship that resulted in the longest government shutdown in history this last winter.
With respect to DOT’s 2020 request, I am pleased to see some movement toward support for additional investments in transit. While the recommended funding levels are still woefully inadequate to support the 66 projects in the Capital Investment Grants pipeline, the request is an improvement from previous years.
Nonetheless, too many other high ranking projects languish without a decision from the department. These delays result in uncertainty and unnecessary increased costs for state and local governments. DOT needs to move ahead.
In spite of proposed cuts elsewhere at DOT, the budget preserves investments in FAA safety and our air traffic control system. However, the fatal Lion and Ethiopian Air accidents have called into question FAA’s certification practices, pilot training requirements, and the integration of new technologies.
I know that you cannot discuss issues related to pending investigations, but these accidents require a careful analysis of their technical failures and a reassessment of the relationship between the FAA and those businesses it regulates. Certainly, this should occur before the department goes any further to execute expanded certification authorities.
As I noted earlier, the 2018 and 2019 T-HUD bills provide a baseline from which we should expand transportation funding. But truthfully, we need even bolder investments in our roads, bridges, and transit systems in the next surface reauthorization bill. Small adjustments for inflation are a non-starter.
We also need to look to the future and plan infrastructure projects that will withstand natural disasters and mitigate the effects of climate change. The anticipated impacts of rising sea levels to the Northeast Corridor alone stand to cripple the entire regional economy if we do not prepare now.
And we must also recognize that infrastructure exists beyond transportation – from water systems to public school buildings.
We cannot expect states and localities to shoulder these costs on their own, nor can we expect tax incentives and private investment to support a national infrastructure plan that lifts up all communities.
Secretary Chao, thank you again for your service and for appearing before us today. I look forward to hearing your testimony and responses to our questions.
Thank you, Chairman Collins.