Panel says new bill may take some time

News January 13, 2004
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Congress
needs 2004 to be a giant leap year. Just one extra day in February may not be
enough, but members of the House of Representatives and Senate still remained
optimistic during the Transportation Research Board's 83rd Annual Meeting in
Washington, D.C., on Monday.

A six-member
panel offered a fairly large crowd of conference attendees an update of the
progress made on the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the
21st Century. Still, indications are it could take another 6-8 months before
the new funding package is signed into law.

"When
things happen, they'll happen fast," said Joyce Rose of the House
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "But right now the one thing
that we don't have in the Highway Trust Fund is enough money to support a new bill.
We have to figure out how we're going to pay for it."

And that
could eat up a lot of time. Both the Senate ($311 billion proposal) and House
($375 billion) believe the U.S. needs to have enough funds to improve the
system, not just maintain it. Jeff Squires of the Senate Environment and Public
Works Committee opened the panel discussion with a fast track of action, but
the tone did not hold for long.

"Senate
floor time (for a new bill) has been committed in early February," he
said. "The Senate has made great progress. We marked up our bill before
recess so we could hit the ground running when we return."

Before
Congress can act on a new transportation bill the following issues must be
resolved: the omnibus appropriations bill, welfare reauthorization, the energy
bill and FY 2005 appropriations. One committee, however, has not even presented
its version of the reauthorization bill. Sarah Kline of the Senate Banking
Committee said her group will not move forward until the Senate Environment and
Public Works Committee determines its funding formulas. Squires said that won't
happen until the President's State of the Union address later this month.

Rose said
the House, which is supporting its Transportation Equity Act--A Legacy for
Users (TEA-LU), may not finalize any plan until mid-March.

After both
branches of Congress pass their work a compromise much be reached before
anything is sent to the President.

"I
think we'll have something moving along in the next six months," said
Squires.

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