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Congress Keeps Transportation Construction Dollars Flowing

House and Senate leaders reached an agreement Sept. 9 to extend surface transportation and aviation programs. The House passed the extensions Sept. 13 by voice vote.  On Sept. 15, the Senate approved the Surface and Air Transportation Extension Act of 2011 (H.R. 2887).  The bill, which the president signed on Sept. 16, extends surface transportation and airport construction programs until March 31, 2012, and January 31, 2012, respectively.  Had the programs lapsed, the Highway Trust Fund would have lost $100 million per day in gas tax revenue and more than 1.6 million jobs would have been at risk.

According to the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA), the legislation extends current levels of contract authority for the highway program at $39.9 billion, minus the $3.1 billion in rescissions of unobligated contract authority in the FY’11 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill.  It is important to note that because the Highway Trust Fund firewalls and guaranteed spending requirements were repealed at the start of this Congress, the actual level of highway and aviation spending will be set by the appropriators, not the extension bills – setting a dangerous precedent for the future of highway spending, according to NSSGA.

NSSGA also said the extensions are “clean” in that the FAA will not see a 5 percent cut that was considered in earlier drafts, nor will there be any back pay for furloughed employees during the two-week shutdown this summer.

The Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) noted its approval of the extension. “AED applauds Congress for putting politics aside and moving forward with extensions of federal transportation construction programs,” said AED President and CEO Toby Mack. “This legislation ensures that the hundreds of thousands of workers who build and maintain our highways, bridges, and airports can continue their work, at least temporarily.

“While the extension is welcome news, it falls far short of giving the construction and equipment industries the certainty essential to recovery and job creation,” Mack said. “By delaying action on a new multiyear highway bill, Congress is putting off much-needed investment in the infrastructure the U.S. economy needs to grow and flourish.”

As further evidence that the Hill is waking up to the need for action on highway reauthorization, a memo on job creation by the House GOP leadership released on Sept. 16 cited infrastructure spending as a possible area for bipartisan cooperation saying, “Congress and the President should spend the next few months working out a multiyear transportation authorization bill.”