With help from Brianna Gurciullo and Stephanie Beasley
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— There’s more than a year to go before the surface transportation authorization expires, but an extension already seems likely given the trickiness lawmakers will have to wrestle with surrounding the Highway Trust Fund.
— Members of New York’s congressional delegation want the FAA to ban non-essential helicopter flights over New York City, backing a push by mayor Bill de Blasio.
— The House is expected to pass a minibus spending bill containing DOT funding sometime early this week.
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EXTENSION TENSION: There’s more than a year before the current surface transportation authorization expires, but an extension may already be inevitable, our Tanya Snyder reported Friday. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has gotten a head start, with plans to mark up its version next month, but other Senate committees with partial jurisdiction — and House counterparts — are moving on a slower timeline.
A history lesson: The last surface reauthorization took three dozen short-term extensions, and nothing’s changed to make the process any easier. “Even to maintain status quo spending, lawmakers will have to come up with $74 billion to cover a deficit in gas tax revenues from the Highway Trust Fund, with no clear idea where that money might come from,” Tanya writes.
The wonky stuff: The obvious buckets of spare cash have all been used up. Pension smoothing, funds sitting in an EPA trust fund for oil cleanup, and deemed repatriation of overseas profit — none of them are options this time around.
The gas tax: Bipartisan reluctance to raise the federal fuel tax remains strong, even as the industry and many experts say it’s still the best way to raise infrastructure revenue until the transition to a vehicle miles traveled fee becomes feasible.
A six-month punt may be the most appealing option, Tanya writes, “simply because the Highway Trust Fund can sustain itself until mid-2021 without more money from Congress, according to the Congressional Budget Office.”
VETTING CHAO: Axios over the weekend published nearly 100 internal Trump transition vetting documents, including for Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. The document lays out Chao's background in the business world as well as at the Labor Department, and highlights what officials in the transition saw as red flags. The "political vulnerabilities" flagged include her marriage to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), her criticism of American workers, paid speeches, and business conflict of interests.
AUTOMATION NATION: The Los Angeles Times reported Friday on a battle heating up at the Port of Los Angeles over expected job losses for dockworkers due to automation. Margot Roosevelt writes: “Amid angry shouting by hundreds of members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners voted 3 to 2 on Thursday to approve a permit for Maersk, the global logistics conglomerate, to introduce driverless electric cargo handlers inside its 484-acre facility.”
FAA HALTS FLIGHTS NEAR IRAN: The FAA has forbidden U.S. airlines from flying over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman near Iran after Iran took down an American surveillance drone off its coast. The FAA said “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the region ... present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations and potential for miscalculation or mis-identification” — reminding many of the Malaysia Airlines downing in 2014. The United States says its drone was flying over international waters, but Iran says it breached Iranian airspace. United Airlines has halted flights between Newark, N.J., and Mumbai, India. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines don’t have flights over Iran, Reuters reported.
NY DELEGATION'S HELICOPTER BAN PUSH: A group of New York lawmakers are pushing the FAA to ban “non-essential” helicopter flights over New York City, after a crash killed a pilot in Manhattan earlier this month. Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for a prohibition, and said he was working with the state’s congressional delegation. The nine House members said the FAA has failed to take sufficient action, and asked it to “look at the history of fatal crashes and near escapes and to take immediate action to ban all non-essential helicopter flights and immediate[ly] institute [temporary flight restrictions] on helicopter flights over New York City."
GLOBAL ENTRY HIT BY DHS STAFFING ISSUES: CBP is planning to cancel some interviews for its Global Entry program through the end of the fiscal year, the latest victim of staffing shortages caused by the redeployment of workers to the border, our Stephanie Beasley reports. “CBP is temporarily reducing staff at Global Entry enrollment centers and reassigning them to support frontline traveler processing during the summer months,” read a notice obtained by POLITICO.
The U.S. Travel Association said it is "deeply concerned" about disruptions to Global Entry and called it an unsettling sign that resources for Homeland Security functions are not keeping pace with the shifting array of challenges that face the agency's important work."
TSA’s Precheck program, which is run through a contract, is unaffected.
FOR THE COASTIES: The House Transportation Committee introduced a two-year Coast Guard reauthorization, H.R. 3409, late Friday. The bill “would authorize more than $8 billion in annual spending for the Coast Guard — a boost from the $7.9 billion authorized for fiscal 2019. It also would direct the service to reassess its plan to obtain a new icebreaker for the Great Lakes region,” Stephanie writes.
THIS WEEK ON THE HILL: The House will continue to debate H.R.3055 (116) , the minibus spending bill that includes DOT funding. The transportation amendments should finally make it to the House floor on Monday, with a vote coming as soon as Tuesday.
Several transportation-related committees are planning hearings for this week, including Senate Commerce hearings on Amtrak and the next steps for passenger rail and technological innovation in transportation. In the House, the transportation committee will examine the role of Mobility on Demand in transportation policy.
— “Union says Tesla broke labor laws by firing and surveilling.” Bloomberg Law.
— “Former JFK supervisor admits to taking foreign bribes.” Associated Press.
— “Nashville Mayor David Briley directs city lawyers to draft plan to 'terminate' existing scooter program, start new plan.” The Tennesean.
— “Italian toll-road operators hope for government talks over tariff changes: sources.” Reuters.
— "The inside story of MCAS: How Boeing’s 737 MAX system gained power and lost safeguards." Seattle Times.
— "Court sets September date for auto emissions fight." POLITICO Pro.
DOT appropriations run out in 98 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,559 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 467 days.