Budget Pact May Handcuff Roads

Article December 28, 2000
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The House and Senate approved a five-year balanced budget agreement before the Memorial Day recess that, if left unchecked, could handcuff efforts to increase funding for use in rebuilding our transportation infrastructure through 2002.

The agreement pretty much seals the fate of fiscal year 1998 (FY98) highway funding, as well as other forms of transportation funding. By all accounts, the agreement should provide highway funding for FY98 at a level similar to, and perhaps slightly above, that of the $20 billion for FY97.

Although the agreement was reached before the recess, with Congress adjourning immediately thereafter little was known about details of the agreement. ÒWe really aren't going to know about funding between each of the categories, and within highways, until Congress comes back from the break,Ó said Bill Peterson, vice president and director of government affairs for the Construction Industry Manufacturers Association (CIMA). Congress was to reconvene June 2.

With FY98 highway funding numbers locked in, the $64,000 question (or should I say $20 billion question) is what comes after FY98. According to Peterson, if the balanced budget agreement is left as is, highway funding could be locked in for the next five years.

How do we get around this perpetual (and woefully inadequate) $20 billion ceiling through 2002? ÒThere are all kinds of proposals that may be floated,Ó said Peterson. One possibility is passing only a one-year version of the ISTEA reauthorization, or National Economic Crossroads Transportation Efficiency Act (NEXTEA).

Prior to approval of the balanced budget agreement, amendments designed to boost highway funding as part of the agreement were defeated by one vote each in the House and Senate. In the House, an amendment proposed by Bud Schuster (R-Pa.), transportation committee chairman, was defeated 216-214. Schuster's proposal reportedly would have increased funding for roads and transit by $12 billion through 2002.

A sensible salt man

During the North American Snow Conference in Kansas City, Mo., in April, the American Public Works Association, the conference's host, recognized Darryl Hearn, chief engineer with the Salt Institute, for his 22 years of service in snowfighting. The institute also held a chili dinner in his honor during the conference at which we were fortunate to attend.

Darryl, who announced his retirement from the institute earlier this year, was one of the first industry people to shake my hand and welcome me into the fold when I joined the magazine six years ago. His ÒsaltyÓ exterior always fails to hide his open, friendly character.

As Darryl transitions into the role that seems eventually to claim all of us in this industry--that of consultant--we say thanks and wish him the best.

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