Gridlock in Congress could result in gridlock on the nation’s roads if legislation concerning reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century isn’t approved by Sept. 30.
On that date, current TEA-21 legislation, which funds federal transportation construction, will expire. Congress has been working on reauthorizing the six-year bill since spring 2001, but cannot come to an agreement on how much will be allotted to transportation, or where the money will come from.
“If Congress and the president fail to enact a highway bill by the end of September, tens of billions of dollars of needed highway construction could halt abruptly,” said Ken Simonson, economist for the Associated General Contractors in a Sept. 3 newsletter. “That would be catastrophic for contractors; manufacturers of paving materials, steel and construction machinery; and thousands of small service businesses.”
Coming up with federal transportation funding and agreeing on the bill could be more difficult than in the past. There are currently three popular and opposing proposals for reauthorization. One, expected to be formally presented by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, calls for a gas tax increase that would push funding above Bush’s $247 billion proposal. Young’s proposal calls for TEA-21 reauthorization to be enacted in early 2004. The second proposal is primarily supported by members of the House of Representatives, who would like to defer reauthorization until after the November 2004 elections so the tax will not be a campaign issue. The third proposal, adopted by lawmakers in the Senate, proposes the shortest extension in which lawmakers would have to complete reauthorization by the end of this year.
What happens after Sept. 30 if no legislation has been passed? Funding might be slowed but a cease in highway construction probably will not happen. Matt Jeanneret, spokesman for the Associated Road and Transportation Builders Association said that legislators are likely to work out an extension that will be based on FY2004 funding levels. ARTBA leaders hope that the extension will last six months or less, rather than postponing the TEA-21 reauthorization process. If funding for the extension is based on FY 2004 levels, then approximately 34.8 billion will be given for transportation, including transit, air and rail.
As far as long-term funding is concerned, no one knows about when it will be agreed upon or enacted. “It is the $34 billion question,” Jeanneret said. “But it is unlikely to happen by the deadline.”
To find out more information on the reauthorization bill, check out the TEA-21 reauthorization online resource at www.tmaw.com. For those interested in contacting their representative, Congress, or the White House toll-free, use the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s Action hotline at 1-888-448-2782.