Friday, December 23, 2011

Federal Appropriations - the year-end wrap

It seems almost as if the FY 2012 appropriations were all about buses. Once Congress got down to work, they first churned out the "Minibus," an appropriations bill that covered Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation and HUD. And then, to finish up all the necessary spending bills, along came the "Megabus," which funded everything else. Below are a few pertinent highlights from these bills, followed by a coda from the "Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act," which Congress just completed before racing off on its holiday break.

First, from the "Minibus," which was signed into law last month:

Funding to the Federal Transit Administration goes up to $10.6 billion, an all-time high. Within the FTA portfolio, formula grants (which would include Section 5307, 5310, 5311, 5316, 5317) all increase by 0.2 percent. The legislation allows for Section 5307 funds to be used to cover urban transit agencies' fuel costs, up to a nationwide total of $100 million. There's a 22 percent increase in funding for New Starts/Small Starts fixed guideway spending, accompanied by provisions that require 40 percent non-federal match for those grants, and require Bus Rapid Transit projects to be funded out of the Section 5309 bus/bus facilities account instead of the Section 5309 New Starts/Small Starts account. FTA "TIGGER" grants are eliminated. No funding is designated for DOT "livability" grants. The DOT-wide "TIGER" program is funded at $500 million.

HUD's Community Development Block Grants continue to decline, and are funded at $2.9 billion in this legislation. Within the HUD portfolio, no funding is identified for "livability" projects, but the final version of this legislation is at least tolerant of livability being an allowed, if not appropriated, use of HUD dollars (the initial House legislation would have banned funding for livability).

Then, from the "Megabus," which Congress sent to Pres. Obama on December 17 for his signature:

  • Medicaid funding is estimated at $270.7 billion in FY 2012, which would be a 4 percent increase from FY 2011.
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is authorized only through a portion of FY 2012; its funding will be the prorated share of $16.5 billion for the year.
  • Workforce Investment Act programs continue their gradual decline, and are funded at $4.9 billion in FY 2012.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation grants will be maintained at the $3.1 billion level.
  • Community Services Block Grant programs will increase to $713.6 million for FY 2012 (despite having been recommended for a 50 percent cut in President Obama's budget request).
  • Older Americans Act Title III-B funds for supportive services, senior centers, etc., will be maintained at the $367.6 million level.

Finally, the "payroll tax cut" bill which just finished being negotiated between the House and Senate includes a short-term extension of the TANF authorization, through February 29, 2012 (TANF was set to expire on December 31). The legislation is silent on the Internal Revenue Code's Section 132(f) "qualified transportation fringe benefit," which means that - as of January 1, 2012 - the allowance for tax-free transit benefits drops back to the pre-ARRA level of $125 per month (this amount may be adjusted slightly by the IRS to account for inflation).

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