Congress likely to pass SAFETEA-LU extension

Obama and others call for quick action on transportation reauthorization

News ARTBA, Innovation NewsBriefs September 06, 2011
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President Obama called on Congress last week to act quickly to address transportation reauthorization before the latest extension expires at the end of September.

“We share President Obama’s view that members of Congress should pass a clean extension of the highway and transit programs and we urge them to do so well in advance of the Sept. 30 expiration date,” American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) Chairman Bill Cox said after attending the White House event. “Taking such action will allow them to focus on the real issue at hand: passage of the nearly two-year-delayed highway and transit reauthorization bill.”

Cox continued, “Boosting highway and transit investment in a multiyear surface transportation bill will help remove the uncertainty that has been plaguing the transportation construction market, create and support American jobs, and build long-term capital assets that will benefit taxpayers for years to come.”

Congress will have to act quickly, according to Innovation NewsBriefs, because the lawmakers are in session for only 11 days this month, not enough time to seriously consider a full-fledged transportation reauthorization bill. A short-term extension of SAFETEA-LU and the authority to collect the gasoline tax, which also expires on Sept. 30, would seem to be the only option. The length of an extension and the level of funding have yet to be worked out.

The House and Senate are still miles apart in their positions on a federal-aid transportation program.

“The House bill would extend the transportation program for six years and has a price tag of $230 billion, or an average of $38.3 billion/year,” according to Innovation NewsBriefs, published by Infrastructure USA. “That is roughly the amount of tax revenue expected to be earned by the Highway Trust Fund over the six-year period of the proposed bill (FY 2012-17) as projected by the Congressional Budget Office in its latest (Aug. 30) projections.

“The Senate bill on the other hand, would extend the program only for two years (FY 2012-13) at a price tag of $109 billion, or an average of $54.5 billion/year, roughly the current level of spending. Since the Highway Trust Fund is expected to receive not more than $75.5 billion in tax revenue over the next two years, the [House Transportation & Infrastructure] Committee proposed to partially fund the shortfall by drawing down the entire unspent balance of the Trust Fund left over at the end of FY 2011: $14.2 billion in the Highway Account and $7.0 billion in the Transit Account, according to CBO calculations. But that still left a sum of $12.3 billion unfunded.”

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