House committee rejects plan to add $4 billion to 2003 highway funding

The House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment Oct. 1 that would have added $4.1 billion to the federal highway program for 2003, bringing funding up to this year’s level of $31.8 billion.

The amendment failed with a vote of 29-26. The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously recommended $31.8 billion for the highway program in its version of the 2003 funding measure.

“Cutting federal investment in our highways by $4 billion this year slashes every state’s ability to fund vital highway improvement and expansion by 27 percent,” Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, who introduced the amendment, told the Appropriations Committee. “It cuts jobs, increases congestion, reduces business productivity and profitability and diminishes the personal safety and quality of life for our citizens.”

An $8.5 billion shortfall in funding for highways was created for the 2003 budget in comparison to 2002’s level when the economic slowdown caused a dip in revenue going into the Highway Trust Fund, which is largely supported by fuel taxes. President Bush has agreed to bring funding up to the projected level for 2003 — $27.7 billion.

Matt Jeanneret, a spokesman for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, said the House of Representatives and the Senate will have to work out the highway funding differences in their appropriations bills. He said he expects 2003 funding to be somewhere between the House’s $27.7 billion and the Senate’s $31.8 billion.

Edwards said the funding issue will be played out sometime in November or December.

The construction industry and state highway departments estimate more than 40,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion spent on highway construction and repair.