Federal Highway Funding — It’s Your Move

Editor’s Commentary

The suspense, and frustration, surrounding the future of federal highway funding continues to build. With the fifth extension of the TEA-21 program quickly drawing to a close, the House and Senate conference on the highway and transit reauthorization bill reconvenes this month with some major differences yet to be resolved.

Tracking the conference activities has been a bit like watching a high-stakes chess match. Earlier this year, the Senate proposed a funding level of $318 billion over six years with guaranteed funding of $301 billion. After weeks of negotiations, the House countered with an offer of $284 billion in guaranteed funding. Concerned that the House funding proposal was still too low, the Senate then offered up an alternative proposal of $289 billion in guaranteed funding.

Despite the narrowing gap between proposals, uncertainty remains as to whether a bill acceptable to both the House and Senate can be put into place before the extension expires on September 30. If not, a sixth extension will be necessary, with negotiations stymied until after the November elections.

All this uncertainty has had a broad impact. “There’s a tremendous level of unpredictability out there,” says Christian Klein, managing member of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein, P.L.C. in Alexandria, VA, and Washington counsel for the Associated Equipment Distributors. “How does anyone plan for what could be coming down the pike? Is there going to be a big increase [in funding]? Are contractors going to need to hire new people and buy new equipment? What should the engineers be doing? That’s the big problem — the question of predictability about what’s going to happen.”

The only way to restore predictability is to push for passage of a TEA-21 reauthorization bill before the current extension runs out. This means contacting legislators immediately to voice support for higher highway funding levels.

According to Klein, the most effective way to influence members of Congress is to send a personal note on your own or company letterhead. “This makes it very clear that a real voter in their district or state took the time to write because you really care about this issue,” he points out.

Contact information for legislators can be found at www.Congress.org. This site includes details on legislators at the local, state and federal level — all the way up to the President himself.

For more timely action, call the Transportation Makes America Work! (TMAW) toll-free action hotline at (888) 448-2782, or use the prepared e-mail at www.tmaw.com. The Associated General Contractors of America offers a similar prepared e-mail at its legislative action center in the government section at www.agc.org.

In each of your communications, focus on issues dear to voters’ hearts. “One of the themes we’ve been sounding is that infrastructure construction jobs are good, domestic jobs that can’t be outsourced overseas,” says Klein. “This is a great opportunity for the White House to pass a really big job creation bill.”

Though it may seem daunting, don’t hesitate to contact the White House directly, adds Klein. “Make sure the President hears from the American people about the importance of getting this done.”