ISTEA Passes; No New Bill

Dec. 28, 2000
As the hour struck midnight and Sept. 30 became Oct. 1, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of the 1991 (ISTEA) passed into the night.

The legislation that has governed the way federal transportation dollars have been allocated for the past six years was not met with a successor: no NEXTEA, no BESTEA, no ITA, or any combination of the three. The alphabet soup that is federal transportation funding was absent of acronyms.

So, where does this leave us?

As the hour struck midnight and Sept. 30 became Oct. 1, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of the 1991 (ISTEA) passed into the night.

The legislation that has governed the way federal transportation dollars have been allocated for the past six years was not met with a successor: no NEXTEA, no BESTEA, no ITA, or any combination of the three. The alphabet soup that is federal transportation funding was absent of acronyms.

So, where does this leave us?

By law, if a new federal surface transportation program had not been passed, and no continuing resolution was passed in its place, states would have stood to lose federal dollars. However, it seems as though federal funding for surface transportation will keep flowing for an interim period, even if it's not at higher levels than before, until a new program can be agreed upon by Congress.

The preferred bill, from a funding standpoint, is the House version called BESTEA (Building Efficient Surface Transportation and Equity Act). The bill (H.R. 2400) is a three-year $85.4 billion bill, which on average is $28.5 billion a year.

The bill was approved by the House Transportation and Public Works Committee, but was classified by the House Budget Committee and the Congressional Budget Office as a budget buster and in violation of the Balanced Budget Resolution. The bill also gave Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) an opportunity to poke his nose into the fray in opposition to the bill.

Six-month stop gap

Prior to the deadline, Bud Schuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the Transportation and Public Works Committee, reached agreement with Gingrich on a six-month reauthorization bill. According to the Construction Industry Manufacturer's Association (CIMA), the bill would allow more time for Congress to reach consensus on uses for newly forecasted improved budgetary conditions.

Apparently business is good for the government and more revenue than expected has dropped into government coffers. While some want to return the money to the taxpayers, most in Washington want a piece of the pie, including transportation.

At press time, Doug Bernard, special consultant to the Equipment Manufacturers Institute (EMI) informed us that the House had passed the six-month reauthorization bill by unanimous consent and with no amendments. Previous reports have said that the bill provides $11.9 billion and uses the same funding formulas as ISTEA to divide the money between the states. In addition, states have approximately $10 billion in funds that can be carried over from previous years if they are unspent.

So, a new federal surface transportation program, by whatever acronym it goes by, will probably not appear until spring. According to Bernard it may even be as long as nine months before the final program is signed, sealed and delivered.