Although neither the House nor Senate has released a surface transportation bill, there is still significant news to come out of both chambers.
In the House, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) announced on June 15 that the surface transportation reauthorization bill will be unveiled sometime during the week of July 4, and that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will mark up the bill on Tuesday, July 12. It appears that Mica is making this commitment to move the reauthorization bill without a guarantee from the House Republican leadership that the bill will be able to be considered on the House floor prior to the August Congressional recess. If the reauthorization is marked up and not considered on the House floor before Aug. 5, it will give opponents of the legislation time to organize their opposition, which could put the entire bill in jeopardy.
The House has not shared any drafts of its bill, but the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) has learned it will be a six-year bill and will be funded at levels the Highway Trust Fund can support. Based on Highway Trust Fund Projections, the estimated total funding that would be provided in the House bill would be $219 billion over six years. This is approximately a 30% cut from current levels. Mica’s bill will be at lower levels, however, it is widely expected that the bill will refocus the federal surface transportation programs, eliminate non-core funding categories, expedite project delivery, streamline the environmental review process and provide additional innovative financing tools to move projects forward.
In the Senate, Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had indicated last week her intentions to release the Committee portion of the surface transportation bill this week. AGC and other transportation stakeholders met with Boxer and her staff on June 16 and were informed that their bill will not be released this week, although they are close on a full agreement on a bipartisan bill supported by Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).
The EPW bill, unlike the House bill, is being written to provide funding levels at current authorized amounts plus inflation. The number that Boxer provided in a statement on May 25 was $339 billion over six years. The challenge for the Senate bill at those levels is that the Highway Trust is not bringing in enough revenue to support a $339 billion bill. The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over the revenue portion of the bill and, in this political and budgetary environment, it will be very difficult to come up with the money to fund a six-year bill.
The Senate is exploring a possible alternative, which includes moving forward on a two-year bill at current authorized funding levels plus inflation. This bill also would be a compromise bipartisan effort with program reform, environmental streamlining and expedited project delivery policies.