Senator Collins Opposes USDOT’s Attempts to Undermine Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A with Secretary Buttigieg. Click HERE to download.
Washington, D.C.—At a 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 poor condition.
The 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 congressional intent?
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.
As 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.
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