ISTEA Passes; No New Bill

Article December 28, 2000
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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?

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

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.

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.

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