Although neither the House nor Senate released a surface transportation bill this week, both chambers produced significant news on the issue.
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) announced that the surface transportation reauthorization bill will be unveiled sometime during the week of July 4, and that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will mark up the bill on Tuesday, July 12.
It appears that Mica is commiting to move the reauthorization bill without a guarantee from the House Republican leadership that the bill will be considered on the House floor before the August Congressional recess. If the reauthorization is marked up but not considered on the floor before August 5, it will give opponents time to organize their opposition, which could put the entire bill in jeopardy.
The House has not shared drafts of their bill, but the Associated General Contractors has learned it will be a six-year bill funded at levels the Highway Trust Fund can support. Based on Highway Trust Fund projections, it is estimated that total funding provided in the House bill would be $219 billion over six years; about a 30% cut from current levels. Mica's bill will be at lower levels, however. It is widely expected that the bill will refocus the federal surface transportation programs, eliminate non-core funding categories, expedite project delivery, streamline the environmental review process, and provide financing innovation to move projects forward.
In the Senate, Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) decided not to release the Committee portion of the surface transportation bill this week. AGC and other transportation stakeholders met with Boxer and her staff and were informed that they are very near full agreement on a bipartisan bill supported by Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Unlike the House bill, the EPW bill is being written to provide funding equal to current authorized amounts plus inflation. The number that Boxer provided in a statement on May 25 was $339 billion over six years. But the Highway Trust Fund is not bringing in enough revenue to support a $339 billion bill. The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over the revenue portion of the bill and, given the current political and budgetary environment, it will be very difficult to come up with the money to fund a six-year bill.
The Senate is considering moving forward on a two-year bill at current authorized funding levels plus inflation. This bill would also be a compromise bipartisan effort with program reform, environmental streamlining, and expedited project delivery policies. The rationale in doing the two-year bill is that, according to Highway Trust Fund projections, federal surface transportation programs funded from the Trust Fund would need an additional $12 billion over the two years ($6 billion annually) to meet the levels proposed by Boxer and Inhofe. If the bill is longer than two years, the annual number needed to fund the program doubles from $6 billion to approximately $12 billion.
Situations in the House and the Senate remain very fluid. AGC and other transportation stakeholders continue to work with the Senate and House Committees in moving the reauthorization process forward.
AGC's Legislative Action Center offers more information on surface transportation reauthorization and how to contact members of Congress.