By David Bauer, senior vice president of government relations, ARTBA
The members of a House/Senate “conference committee” charged with reconciling the two chambers’ multi-year surface transportation reauthorization bills will formally meet the week of Nov. 16. While the session should be largely ceremonial with statements from key participants about the importance of the task before them and calls for bipartisanship, the work of the group is already underway behind the scenes. The current temporary highway/transit program extension expires Nov. 20—meaning another interim measure could be needed if a compromise bill is not enacted before Congress embarks on a week-long recess for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The immediate issue for congressional leaders and members of the conference committee is to decide on the duration of any final bill and its overall levels of investment. While the Senate-passed bill would authorize the programs for six years, it would only generate enough Highway Trust Fund revenue to support modest investment increases for the first three of those years. By contrast, the House bill would generate sufficient resources to fund its proposed six years of flat investment levels. A chart depicting the inflation adjusted investment levels from the Senate and House proposals is below.
A number of senators in both parties are pushing congressional leaders to use the resources from the House-passed bill to support a four- or five-year bill at investment levels above those proposed by the Senate. House GOP leaders are digging in to hold investment to current levels. As an illustration of the debate, the House funding proposal could support a five-year reauthorization bill that provides $2 billion per year more for highway and transit investment than the Senate proposal. A four-year bill could lead to even greater investments.
ARTBA joined with 39 other national associations in a Nov. 10 letter to the bicameral, bipartisan congressional leadership urging them to direct the highway/transit bill conferees to produce a bill of less than six years in duration that significantly increases surface transportation investment. “Holding highway and public transportation investment at or below purchasing power levels will not create job growth, reduce traffic congestion, or address the nations backlog of needed surface transportation infrastructure improvements,” noted the letter signatories.
Once the decision about the final measure’s investment levels and duration is made, the conference negotiations should proceed quickly. As the House and Senate bills include many of the same priorities and structure, the conferees’ job will be to iron out the technical differences. To that end, ARTBA sent a Nov. 11 letter to all conferees articulating the transportation construction industry’s recommendations between the two measures.
Expect another busy week on the reauthorization front and we will keep you apprised of further developments.