Legislative Update: NAPA Weighs in on Current Road Bill Debate

While the U.S. Senate made some progress in coming together on a multi-month extension of expired SAFETEA-LU programs, bicameral progress between the House and Senate continues to frustrate stakeholder groups and state DOTs seeking a resolution. The chairmen and ranking Republican Members of the Senate Public Works, Commerce, and Banking Committee and the chairman of the Finance Committee sent a joint letter to the Majority and Minority Leaders saying that they have agreed to move forward on a six-month extension. During a briefing with US DOT officials on Nov. 18, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) urged the Administration to assist in ending "the standoff" with the House, where transportation committee chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) continues to call for passage of his new six-year transportation bill. Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari restated the White House's support for an 18-month extension before conceding that a six-month window is "better than a 30-day."

In a widely circulated letter, the National Asphalt Pavement Association and four other construction associations representing the principal suppliers of pavement materials urged the Congress to enact a multi-year surface transportation bill with increased funding for the federal highway program. The letter used past and current production levels for aggregate, asphalt mix, cement, and ready-mixed concrete to make the case that the material supply industry is losing jobs. The construction industry’s national unemployment rate of 18.7 percent is the highest of any sector and the Operating Engineers union reports that unemployment in their trade group is now at 35 percent. The letter was distributed to all members of Congress and put in the hands of both US DOT and FHWA officials. The Dow Jones News Service featured the letter and quotes from NAPA’s Vice President for Government Affairs Jay Hansen in a news story which was picked up by other outlets including the AASHTO Journal and DCStreets.com. “The letter gives Congress and the Administration another way of looking at how the current economic downturn is impacting the transportation construction industry,” Hansen said. In addition to NAPA, the letter was signed by National Sand, Stone and Gravel Association, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, American Concrete Pavement Association and Portland Cement Association.

In the meantime, House and Senate Democrats have started drafting legislation to address the nation’s growing unemployment problem. The unemployment rate in October was 10.2 percent and is expected to get worse before it gets better. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated that the House will take up legislation in December and may include infrastructure spending; aid to small businesses and the states; and expiring tax credits. The debate appears centered on how to pay for such a bill with ideas ranging from using unobligated spending from the economic stimulus bill or TARP to a small fee on stock transactions. On the Senate side, Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) have been tasked with drafting the legislation which is not expected to be considered until January. Sen. Durbin and House leaders have suggested highway spending could be accelerated in the next year or two under the measure. Meanwhile, President Obama will hold a jobs forum at the White House on December 3 and is scheduled to kick off a “listening tour” immediately following that to sell the jobs package around the country. NAPA is fully engaged in the process and will weigh in extensively on the package.

With the evolving nature of the legislative process and so many issues impacting the industry, NAPA has enhanced our legislative Web site. On the welcome page, visitors get at a glance the latest news and grassroots alert messages. There is also a wealth of data on the industry as well as presentations, news articles and other material related specifically to the asphalt pavement industry. Comments and suggestions on the legislative website should be directed to Jay Hansen at jhansen@hotmix.org.