The House and Senate passed a seventh extension of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century and the bill was signed into law by President Bush on May 31. TEA-21 expired on September 30, 2003, and the federal highway and transit programs have been continued through a series of stop-gap extensions.
The House passed its reauthorization bill, H.R. 3 on March 11 and the Senate did so on May 17, but conferees were not appointed for the bill until last Thursday. The House-Senate conference committee is chaired by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. House staff has crafted a tentative schedule for the next two weeks to address the many areas of the bill that must be reconciled. Among those issues are funding formulas, projects and policy provisions such as research programs, safety and environmental issues.
The toughest hurdle for conferees is likely to be a decision on the overall funding level for the six-year bill. The House bill provides a total of $284 billion, while the Senate bill would authorize $295 billion. The White House has yet to show any signs that it would sign off on any funding level higher than $284 billion. However, that figure makes it virtually impossible to meet demands for a 92% minimum return to the states of revenue contributed to the Highway Trust Fund without reducing funding for some states below TEA-21 levels. The Senate bill would provide each state at least a 15% increase over its average TEA-21 funding level.
House and Senate finance staff are reviewing the revenue provisions included in the two bills, to determine if they will meet the White House test of no bonding, no new taxes and no increase in the federal deficit.
The finance title included in the Senate version of the bill has a wide range of revenue measures included, some of which has little to do with the highway and transit programs.
The House and Senate Joint Committee on Taxation released a review of the revenue title of H.R. 3, as passed by the Senate recently. In it were shifts in funding for programs developed by the Senate Finance Committee to help boost the bill total by $11.2 billion to $295 billion over six years.