By David Bauer, senior vice president of government relations, ARTBA
Members of Congress return to Washington, D.C., next week to face a lengthy “must do” list that includes a multi-year reauthorization of the federal highway, public transportation and aviation programs.
Before taking a five-week summer recess, the Senate approved a six-year surface transportation program reauthorization bill that would increase highway investment to $48 billion (a 20 percent bump) and transit funding to $13.4 billion (a 25 percent boost) by FY 2021. With time running out before the latest program extension was set to expire July 31, the two chambers opted for another short-term extension through Oct. 29. The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is expected to act on its version of a multi-year bill in mid-September, with full House consideration anticipated shortly thereafter.
While the prospects for enactment of a long-term highway/transit bill are more positive than at any point since a five-year reauthorization measure was approved in 2005, a host of other issues and deadlines are expected to complicate the legislative schedule for the remainder of the year. With the 2016 presidential primary contests as a backdrop, members of Congress will over the coming months consider: the Obama Administration’s Iran nuclear deal; legislation to fund the federal government—including the transportation programs—before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, with a number of Republican presidential candidates calling to shut down the government to block funding for Planned Parenthood—a strategy Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently said does not have sufficient votes to succeed; reauthorization of the federal aviation programs before Oct. 1 (an extension into 2016 is widely expected); an increase in the federal debt limit some time in November or December; and renewal of a host of expiring tax breaks before the end of the year.
To make a long story short, a surface transportation bill is definitely in play, but in addition to its own complications (i.e., the Highway Trust Fund’s permanent revenue deficit), it must compete with some very high profile issues and similarly compelling deadlines.
To make sure the highway/transit bill was fresh in the minds of members of Congress, the ARTBA co-chaired Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) spent the last two weeks running radio ads in congressional districts across the country highlighting the need for a long-term bill this year. ARTBA will continue to work with our TCC and general business community partners to ensure the need to complete this legislation remains high on the congressional agenda once lawmakers return to the nation’s capital.