Commentary

18 Month Extension of Transportation Reauthorization All But Certain

The National Journal is reporting that the U.S. Senate leadership is poised to officially support an 18-month extension of transportation program reauthorization. Health Care reform and climate change legislation have higher priority for Congress is the last half of 2009.

“Both Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer and
ranking member James Inhofe are backing an 18-month extension of current
law that is “clean” — devoid of any new policy criteria — that the panel
will vote on this morning.

“I think what we’re doing is best for the economy and is true to fiscal
responsibility,” Boxer said. Senate Majority Leader Reid also appears to be
on board. A spokesman for Inhofe said, “We’re aiming for 18 months” but
added that it might take even longer to finish a bill.

“That is exactly the concern expressed by those wanting to do a shorter
extension to keep the pressure on lawmakers to act before getting bogged
down in the next two election years. “An 18-month extension will put us
into the next presidential election cycle. It will take four years,” House
Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar said Tuesday. “It
will not be a year-and-a-half. I know how this body works. … Inertia
becomes the enemy of progress.”

“Oberstar’s deputy — Transportation and Infrastructure Highways
Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. — said extending current law
would cost the creation of at least 1 million jobs in the short term and
that states won’t start investing in longer term projects during that time.

So, even though the U.S. House isn’t happy with the decision, it takes both houses of Congress to go along. With both the White House and the Senate against pushing a bill through this year, it looks like reauthorization is once again set for a multiyear delay.

Bob Poole has written extensively on reauthorization and thinks this will be a good thing overall because the current proposal is fatally flawed and we need an extended discussion on future role of transportaton policy.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.