AASHTO Asks Congress for $50B Fiscal Backstop for State DOTs

Thu April 16, 2020 - National Edition
AASHTO Journal

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials sent a letter to Congressional leadership on April 6 requesting the immediate emergency injection of $49.95 billion to offset an estimated 30 percent loss in state transportation revenues over the next 18 months.

"State departments of transportation are forecasting a significant reduction in state transportation revenues that will challenge their ability to maintain and operate our transportation system in a way that can support the COVID-19 response," explained Jim Tymon, AASHTO's executive director, in a statement.

AASHTO is requesting that the nearly $50 billion be distributed to state DOTs via formula funding; a figure composed of $16.7 billion to cover revenue losses for the remainder of fiscal year 2020 and $33.3 billion for FY 2021.

"This crucial federal backstop will prevent cancellations and delays of projects as well as potential job losses both in the state DOT workforce and the private sector," AASHTO said in its letter.

Such workforce drawdowns are already on the drawing board, as Pennsylvania plans to end paid leave for 9,000 state employees whose work locations are closed and who are unable to work remotely on April 10, according to a news story – and 5,700 of those 9,000 are Pennsylvania Department of Transportation workers.

In addition to backstopping state transportation revenue losses, AASHTO is asking Congress to pass a "robust" surface and water transportation reauthorization legislation in order to provide a long-term boost to the nation's economy once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

"These actions to shore up our nation's highway, transit, passenger rail, and water transportation systems will send a bold signal to raise consumer and investor confidence and expectations for economic recovery, while strengthening our national transportation system for decades to come," the organization said in its letter.

AASHTO is concerned that current federal surface transportation authorization – the Fixing America's Surface Transportation or FAST Act – will expire in just six months with no clear pathway established for renewing federal funding that supports America's highway and transit programs.

"A well-performing transportation network allows businesses to manage inventories and move goods more cheaply, access a variety of suppliers and markets for their products, and get employees reliably to work," Tymon noted.

"The benefits of reauthorizing a long-term surface transportation bill were well-documented before the current crisis," he added. "But it has now added even more significance as the necessary platform for national economic recovery once the pandemic subsides."