Just days before highway funding authorization was set to expire, the U.S. House and Senate settled their differences long enough to pass a 90-day extension of the transportation bill. Had an extension not been reached by March 31, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation would have been unable to collect fuel taxes amounting to some $110 million per day.
The extension—the ninth time funding authorization has been extended with a short-term bill since the long-term Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) bill expired on Sept. 30, 2009—merely buys a little more time for the House and Senate to get together and settle on a long-term solution for transportation policy. Whether that can be accomplished in an election year, though, remains in question.
“While it is critical that we not put American jobs and safety at risk and hurt our economic recovery by allowing funding to run out, it is not enough for us to continue to patch together our nation’s infrastructure future with short-term Band-Aids,” said Jay Carney, White House press secretary, in a Politico.com report.
THE BIG DIVIDE
At issue is the gap between a twoyear, $109-billion bill passed by the Senate in early March, and a five-year, $260-billion proposal created by Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mica’s bill, however, has been unable to gather enough support in the House, particularly among Republicans, to even bring the proposal to the House floor for a vote. Unable to garner support to the House bill, Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was forced to broker a short-term extension. fIRST PERSON 26 I re action to CSA 28 I safet y 411 34 I pri vate fleets 36 I frei ght outloo k 38 manage menT Even that bill faced opposition in the House as Democrats refused to vote for an extension, hoping instead to force the Senate bill to the House floor for a vote. After several days of wrangling, the House eventually passed the 90-day extension and, left with few options before funding authorization ran out, the Senate also passed it. President Barack Obama signed it on March 30.
“The Senate [was left] with little choice but to go along or risk being blamed for closing down the transportation program,” wrote transportation consultant Ken Orski.
Mica and Boehner are still hoping to drum up support for a five-year bill, but Republican opposition may prevent that from happening before the deadline.
“The interesting thing about this whole process and the delay is that it’s educated [new House] members because they didn’t understand the consequences of various proposals, and I think that’s becoming very clear. So you hear everybody saying now we need as long a term bill as possible,” Mica told Politico.
That uncertainty, of course, does not sit well with industry stakeholders.
For example, a joint statement released by the co-chairs of the Transportation Construction Coalition—T. Peter Ruane, president & CEO, American Road & Transportation Builders Assn., and Stephen Sandherr, CEO, Associated General Contractors of America— contended that an extension is not a substitute for the stability a long-term bill provides.
“The current surface transportation law, SAFETEA-LU, expired more than 910 days ago,” the statement said. “We respect the legislative process and the right of both the House and Senate to pass their own bill. With an overwhelming bipartisan majority, the Senate has passed its multi-year bill. It is now the responsibility of the House of Representatives to either advance its own alternative or utilize another mechanism to allow the two chambers to reconcile their differences.”