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Vote Alert

NTU Vote Alert: THUD Appropriations Amendments

June 9, 2014

H.R. 4745, the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015, marks a significant missed opportunity to restrain wasteful spending. While the legislation does stay within the funding levels outlined in the Ryan-Murray budget agreement, it nonetheless increases expenditures by $1.173 billion over enacted FY14 levels.

Specifically, H.R. 4745 perpetuates wasteful spending by appropriating $100 million for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery or TIGER grants. Established under the failed 2009 stimulus legislation, TIGER grants were cited less than two weeks ago by the Government Accountability Office for serious transparency problems and repeated incidents where the Department of Transportation deviated from procedure to advance late, lower technically rated projects over higher ones, indicating possible favoritism in grant distribution.       

H.R. 2745 also funds Essential Air Service (EAS), long overdue for elimination, at $149 million. The program underwrites service at dozens of rural facilities that serve fewer than 10 passengers per day or are within easy driving distance of major airports. Eliminating EAS has been repeatedly recommended in NTU and U.S. PIRG’s joint “Common Ground” report. The legislation also continues the tradition of pouring billions of taxpayer dollars down the black hole that is Amtrak. Amtrak is projected to run an operating loss of $333 million in FY15 and managed to lose $388 million on food and beverage service in the past four years alone. It’s time to stop forcing taxpayers to subsidize this unprofitable enterprise.

On the Housing and Urban Development side of the legislation, H.R. 2745 provides $3.06 billion for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). The program was highlighted in Senator Coburn’s (R-OK) 2012 “Wastebook” as an example of an inefficient federal grant program. In 2013, the Reason Foundation found that 8 out of 10 of the highest-income counties in the U.S. received millions in CDBG funds, while the 10 lowest-income counties received zero dollars. Grant funds have also been used to fund questionable projects such as a Mark Twain museum in Connecticut, a brewery expansion in Michigan, and a marina in Louisiana.

Still, legislators have the opportunity to improve on the underlying legislation and to that end, NTU urges Representatives to vote as follows on amendments to H.R. 4745:

NTU will consider “YES” votes on the following amendments to be the pro-taxpayer position, as well as any other amendments that cut wasteful spending:

  • Chaffetz (R-UT) Amendment: This amendment would ensure that no funds in H.R. 4745 are used for high speed rail projects. High speed rail projects are not the transportation cure-all proponents claim, especially when one considers that: jet aircraft still travel twice as fast as the fastest trains available, past urban passenger rail projects have gone 40 percent over their projected costs on average, and high speed railways in Europe and Japan are far from commercially viable, staying afloat thanks to large subsidies.
  • Chabot (R-OH) Amendment: This amendment would cut the Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (Section 8) Program by 10 percent, saving $2.9 billion and placing those funds towards the spending reduction account. Section 8 funding in the underlying bill is $179 million above last year’s enacted levels and is in need of significant reform.
  • Broun (R-GA) Amendment: This amendment would reduce Amtrak Operating Grants by $34 million. Eliminating wasteful subsidies for Amtrak is an important first step in cutting the Washington apron-strings and forcing Amtrak to enact significant reforms.

NTU will consider a “NO” vote on the following amendment to be the pro-taxpayer position:

  • Poe (R-TX) Amendment: This amendment would strip language in H.R. 4745 that ensures taxpayer funds will not be used toward new light or heavy rail projects that have not been previously approved by voters. In addition, NTU opposes any amendments that increases funding for light or heavy-rail project grants; more federal dollars should not be thrown into ventures that are so local in character

Roll call votes on the above amendments to H.R. 4745 will be included in NTU’s annual Rating of Congress.

If you have any questions, please contact NTU Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift at (703) 683-5700