The House passed legislation this afternoon sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-MN to extend the Federal law authorizing spending on federal-aid highways and transit projects which was set to expire on September 30. The House used 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 vote was 335 to 85.
Most importantly, 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and amended by a 2007 energy law), which will be executed next week by the Federal Highway Administration if not repealed. 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 rescission issue is a very real problem for the state departments of transportation as they will be negatively impacted in a total of $8.7 Billion
“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,” John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “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. ”
Now the Senate will need to address the extension. Three committees have approved an extension of 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.
Time and again I will remind you that we at Reason favor the 18-month extension in order that we have a full discussion of the transportation policy issues facing this nation. It was first stated here and here by Reason’s founder Bob Poole.