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The much needed Transportation Funding Bill has hit Congress and ground to a halt in the partisan gridlock. We look at what is being considered and what has already been rejected.
The latest Transportation Funding Bill got off to an inauspicious start last week after Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood publicly called it “the worst“ bill he had ever seen “during 35 years of public service.
Unfortunately, things seem to have gotten worse from there. Despite the great need for highway repair, it looks like, for the foreseeable future, that transportation funding will have to wait. The quest to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, it would appear, has been caught in the partisan gridlock that has paralyzed Congress in recent years.
What’s Up For Debate?
Up until the most recent Congress, what’s being debated was actually fairly routine. Congress is supposed to be authorizing funding for the Highway Trust Fund. The HTF is the fund from which money for construction, repair and improvements for the nations highway system is pulled. The HTF also pays for road safety agencies, enforcement and education drives.
The situation, however, is a little more delicate than it might appear. Over the years, the Highway Trust Fund has become steadily more complicated.
For one, funding for highways is not even among states; many states pay more to the Federal government than they receive. Others receive much more than they pay. As a general rule, states with higher populations, such as New York pay more than they get and states with smaller populations such as Kansas pay less than they get. This is a practical solution for a country the size of ours but it has tended to make the bills (1) more partisan and (2) more prone to so-called ‘pork’.
Another complication is that for the last few decades a percentage of the HTF has gone to ‘alternative’ means of transportation. This includes transit such as bus and subway systems and projects like bike paths. Depending on who you ask, that measure is either pork or sensible policy.
The 2012 Fight
That debate is largely what has derailed the 2012 authorization bill. The House Republicans have written a bill that would provide $260 billion to the highway trust fund but remove all funding for other means of transportation. That funding would have to come out of the general fund. The House bill would also authorize oil drilling in a number of previously restricted areas, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as a means to pay for the extra expenditure.
For a short while, the bill also included a proposal that would increase the size and weight allowances of trucks. This received a great deal of interest from the industry but was ultimately rejected in the committee stage of the debate.
The Democrat controlled Senate, on the other hand, has written a $109 billion bill which does include alternate means of transportation but does not include extra projects such as oil drilling. The Senate bill has received the endorsement of the Obama Administration. The President had asked earlier for $50 billion in infrastructure improvement funding.
Furthering the difference, the House Bill would provide funding for 5 years, the Senate bill would provide funding for only 2 years.
What’s Going to Pass?
Probably neither; the House bill has come under the most criticism as even some Republicans have balked at the price tag. The bill has come under particular criticism from Tea Party members who were elected after running on a platform of stopping precisely this kind of bill.
Unfortunately, as this is an election year, neither party is particularly willing to give ground to the other. What is most likely to happen is that — after a lot of fighting — a temporary bill will be passed by both houses that will authorize spending until after the election. That method has been in place since 2009.
The debate, however is likely to dominate the transportation calendar over the next twelve months. With this much money at stake, all the major players — and their lobbyists — will want to have a dog in the fight.
Editor: Roxanne Swidrak, Vice President, Operations • 1-800-253-5506 • www.FoleyServices.com • Vol. 111, No. 725 • © Foley Carrier Services, LLC. 2011