The House of Representatives is poised to embark on a significant departure from the normal budget process, one that would lead to the Department of Transportation being funded via a stand-alone piece of legislation rather than through HB 1 and HB 2, the two bills that will ultimately constitute the FY 2016-2017 budget.
Under a proposal put forward Tuesday by House Finance Committee Chairman Neal Kurk, Division II of the Committee, which has responsibility for the Department of Transportation among other agencies, will prepare an amendment to HB 357, a piece of legislation unrelated to the FY16-17 budget. That amendment will both make appropriations to the Department of Transportation for the upcoming biennium and generate any revenues – over and above the House’s baseline estimates — needed to support those appropriations. The amendment will be available to the public on Friday, March 13, heard by the Committee on Monday, March 16, and potentially voted upon by the Committee by Wednesday, March 18. If that timeline were to hold, the House of Representatives would consider the amended version of HB 357 on Wednesday, March 25, one week prior to the House’s likely consideration of HB 1 and HB 2.
Under the budget proposal put forward by Governor Hassan in February, expenditures for transportation purposes would total $1.21 billion over the FY 2016-17 biennium. Only a very small amount – approximately $1.98 million — of those expenditures are supported via the General Fund. The largest share — $416.6 million — flows from the Highway Fund. Because of shortfalls within the Highway Fund, the Governor’s budget proposal includes provisions that would increase motor vehicle registration and other fees.
While it is not yet clear the level of transportation funding the Committee intends to provide through this new process, Representative Kurk, in putting forward his proposal, did argue that it was clear that the Highway Fund needs additional revenue in order to fulfill key functions. Also yet to be determined is the effect Finance’s new approach may have on funding for the Department of Safety. At present, a portion of the Highway Fund is used to support that particular department; the Finance Committee appears prepared to reduce the amount of Highway Funds used for that purpose, but may reallocate resources from elsewhere in the budget to make up for the difference.