The 114th Congress will convene on January 3. Republicans will now control the Senate, 54-44-2, and continue to control the House, 246-188 (with one seat still undecided). There will be 13 new members of the Senate and at least 60 newbies in the House. As always when a new Congress takes office, there will be an atmosphere of excitement, expectation… and a lengthy list of possible “to do” items.
However, despite all this change in the air of the Nation’s Capital, there will also be at least two constants. First, Congress must still deal with the long-term funding limitations for the federal surface transportation programs. The Highway Trust Fund (HTF), having been rescued from insolvency several times by general fund infusions over the past six-plus years, will be unable to fund new federal-aid projects if Congress does not act by the end of May. Even if our lawmakers avert short-term disaster once again, the problem is not going away until they squarely address the chronic deficiencies in the Trust Fund’s revenue. That means either adjusting the gas tax for the first time in almost 22 years, or enacting an equally reliable revenue mechanism.
The second constant will be ARTBA’s determination to make this happen. Many will be talking about the Republicans’ takeover of the Senate and potential for more partisan squabbling
between Congress and the White House. As always, ARTBA is prepared to advocate for the nation’s transportation construction industry as aggressively as possible, no matter who is running what branch of government, or how challenging the environment becomes.
This will be the eighth time in the past 20 years that party control has changed in one house of Congress or the other. During that same period, there have been Democrats in the White House for 12 of those years, and a Republican for eight. These constantly-shifting dynamics have never mattered to ARTBA. Our core mission remains the same: advocating for the critical transportation investment the nation needs. We promote programs that are indispensable to the nation’s mobility and economic well-being. We are proud to represent a great industry. But if ARTBA were identified with one party or the other, we would have been largely ineffective for about half of the past two decades, and would approach every coming election with trepidation.
So our challenge in 2015 remains: get long-term federal transportation investment on that congressional “to do” list. Republicans may now control both chambers, and the demographics may be distinct from previous Congresses, but those 535 men and women will have something in common with their immediate predecessors: their decisions in coming months will shape your transportation construction market.
Federal investment provides 52 percent of states’ capital investment in highways and bridges. Some states are already announcing reduced lettings in the New Year because of the looming uncertainty after May. The stakes remain high for the industry and the nation.
That’s why you need to join ARTBA’s efforts to educate the new Congress—especially those new members—and communicate the sense of urgency that is justified. Besides your grassroots activism, your company or chapter can also support ARTBA’s “Transportation Makes America Work” (TMAW) program—our aggressive effort to promote the industry’s HTF and reauthorization priorities.
Change may be coming to Washington, D.C. (again), but ARTBA won’t let up until Congress solves the same old problem.