When it comes to transportation funding, everybody that I talk to say those in Congress “get it.” Then why, when the bills are being constructed, do I find myself saying, “Where do they get off?”
The House of Representatives chose to delay a vote on its FY 2014 spending bill for the U.S. DOT and Housing and Urban Development until after the summer recess. The bill, which according to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has enough support to pass and move on to the Senate, contains a budget of $44 billion, $7 billion less than what was there in FY 2013. The Senate, led by a no-vote charge of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), defeated a $54 billion spending measure that keeps the level of financial support flat when compared to the last year.
Due to the Budget Control Act, Congressional Republicans are acting like the nerdy kid who sits in front of the class. They are going to great lengths to remind those in power what was written in the textbooks a couple of years ago. The U.S. DOT is one of the many victims of the automatic sequester cuts, and the political big elephants in the room are shaking a ruler in an effort to make sure everybody adheres to the numbers. The problem in the House is the conservatives are in control, so any bill will most likely comply with this sequester strangle hold. There also appears to be enough in the Senate to make any attempts to increase FY funding difficult.
But those in the House and Senate get it, right? If U.S. DOT funding levels are dropped during FY 2014, surely those in power will work something up when MAP-21 expires and the Highway Trust Fund is close to zero, right? Here is what I know: An increase in the federal gas tax is still off the table, instilling a mileage-based user fee is miles away from reaching the table, and there is an outside chance they will slip something under the table whenever they decide to tackle tax reform.
Until a long-term transportation bill is in place, the industry needs to brace for these proposed spending cuts, because it appears those who insist on following the rules are going to bite, kick and scratch until they get their way, even if it means ignoring the economic haul routes of the country.
So, I’ll ask again, “Where do they get off?”