WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives voted 335-85 to approve a bill that would extend federal highway and transit programs until the end of this year. Federal law authorizing spending on federal-aid highways, transit projects, and highway safety programs is set to expire Sept. 30.
House Democratic leaders brought the measure, HR 3617, sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-MN, to the floor late Wednesday, Sept. 23, using an expedited procedure known as suspension of the rules. This process allowed the bill to bypass a committee markup and also precludes amendments to the bill. The legislation does not address a looming $8.7 billion rescission of existing contract authority (enacted in the 2005 transportation law known as SAFETEA-LU and amended by a 2007 energy law), which will be executed next week by the Federal Highway Administration if not repealed.
Rep. John Mica, R-FL and ranking minority member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said one of his concerns about the bill is that is does not deal with the $8.7 billion rescission. Oberstar did not discuss the rescission issue on the House floor, but his spokesman said a repeal of the rescission was left out of the measure because House rules would require an offset to pay for it through higher taxes or reduced spending elsewhere.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials issued a statement supporting the efforts of the House of Representatives to pass legislation extending authorization of federal-aid highway and transit programs. AASHTO noted the urgency of ensuring that federal-aid highway and transit programs do not shut down Oct. 1, the day after the current act expires. However, AASHTO added that state transportation departments will be negatively impacted because the legislation does not repeal the $8.7 billion highway contract authority rescission that will take effect Sept. 30.
"This rescission will amount to real dollar losses to programs and projects, and will have a devastating effect on many state departments of transportation and reverse the positive economic gains brought about by the recovery act," said John Horsley, AASHTO executive director. "For example, Missouri will lose $202 million in contract authority and the cut will have a disproportionate impact on local bridges and metropolitan planning organizations. Colorado would lose $115 million in contract authority. Michigan’s share of the rescission is $263 million, which amounts to approximately a quarter of what that state received for highway and bridge funding through the recovery act.
"States are just starting to pick up some momentum through economic recovery," Horsley added. "Now is not the time to turn back the clock."
The three-month extension bill now heads to the Senate, which has not yet acted on a proposal approved by three committees to extend authorization by 18 months, as requested by the Obama administration. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-CA, has vowed to address the rescission matter when her chamber takes action. The Senate continues debating appropriations measures this week. It is unclear when the transportation extension will come up for floor debate.