Another election year, another expiring funding package ...

July 15, 2020

This column published as "Here We Go Again" in July/August 2020 issue

September is going to be here before we know it, and while we can hope for an Indian Summer, there is much less optimism that the fall, when it arrives, will find a whorl of dollars accompanying the seasonal plenitude of fallen leaves. 

I won’t bother selling you on the notion that I can make heads or tails of the ins and outs of Congress’s attempts to preempt the expiry of the FAST Act in 600 words. I honestly don’t think even they, the Congressional members, entirely understand it themselves. Infrastructure has been a “key,” hot-button issue since the last presidential election cycle, and we have so far got bupkis to show for it.

What is clear, however, is that the debate or discussion of what is proper and appropriate with regards to sustainable infrastructure funding is less a matter of political prudence than of self-concern amongst Congressional members-—both those looking at reelection challenges and those who have stuck by the current administration through some pretty unfortunate behavior—dosed with a thick dollop of conjecture as to whether anyone wants to hand a victory on this score to the White House or whether it would be more “prudent” to see how November shakes out.

As of this writing, there is really only one piece of proposed legislation crowd-surfing the greater assembly—the only just recently unveiled Moving Forward Act, a $1.5 trillion proposal debuted in the House that is even “greener” than the INVEST in America Act, the tenets of which survived House T&I Committee markup and which it has now absorbed. The $494 billion portion of Moving Forward is what crested the tide of the House T&I Committee, but it did so along strict party lines, which does not bode well for its chances in the bigger bill. 

Both plans had come out of the Democratic Party, and so of course the Republican Party is taking issue with not being part of the conversation; were the roles reversed, we’d see the same complaint coming out of the Dems. 

What’s that mean, if anything? 

I’m guessing it means that in the sparse few weeks we have left until the FAST Act becomes the PAST Act, we will see our elected officials waste our time. July 4 means a recess, which means there are, as of today, only days to suss this out before they reconvene in ... August?

There’s another option—ask a legislator, there’s always another option–but it is the one no one wants to discuss, the spurned cousin that always sits quietly in the back corner of the room with his eyes open and mouth shut. He goes unaddressed because to engage him is to open yourself up to actually having to lend something of yourself in the exchange. In this case, the obsequious dweller is a simple reauthorization of present funding levels for a further six months or even a year. If I were a gambling man, I would put my chips there.  Not only is it what there’s time for, it’s the option best suited to Congressional self-preservation.

Even though the can’s going to be awful busted up when we have to kick it down the road again, it may be our only practical resort.

It’s funny, you’ll be reading this after Moving Forward is taken up. I wonder if I’m wrong. 

About The Author: Budzynski is senior managing editor of Roads & Bridges.

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