TEA-21 reauthorization on a slow track in Congress

Legislation that authorized federal spending on transportation construction for the past six years will expire at the end of this month, and Congress has yet to approve a replacement bill.

Matt Jeanneret, spokesman for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, said legislators are likely to work out an extension that will be based on funding levels in the fiscal year 2004 appropriations bills. Congress is still hammering out the appropriations bills, but both the House and Senate have proposed $34.8 billion for highway, mass transit, air and rail projects.

Ken Simonson, economist for the Associated General Contractors, says the lack of a new highway bill could prove catastrophic for contractors, paving material suppliers and manufacturers of construction equipment. “Tens of billions of dollars of needed highway construction could halt abruptly,” he said.

Congress has been working on reauthorizing the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century since spring 2001, but cannot come to an agreement on how much will be allotted to the program or where the money will come from. The Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, which provides money for airport improvements, also expires Sept. 30.

Three proposals for reauthorization are circulating in Congress. One, expected to be formally presented by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, calls for a fuel 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 a fuel tax increase will not be a campaign issue. The third proposal, adopted by a Senate, proposes the shortest extension in which lawmakers would have to complete reauthorization by the end of this year.

To find out more about reauthorization status, check out the TEA-21 online resource by clicking the link to the right. To contact your representatives in Congress toll free, use ARTBA’s hotline at 1-888-448-2782.