House Rule Change Could Erode Transportation Spending

US House of Representatives Rule Change Could Destabilize Highway Funding Flow and Erode Transportation Spending

A diverse coalition of business groups and unions wrote House Republican leaders to strenuously oppose a proposed change to House spending rules that they say could jeopardize transportation funding.

Existing rules forbid "obligation limitations to be below the level for any fiscal year set forth in section 8003 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, as adjusted, for the highway category or the mass transit category." SAFETEA-LU is the authorization bill for federal highway spending. It has been repeatedly extended since expiring on September 30, 2009, and it is set to expire again March 4.

The proposed rule states that a transportation bill is out of order only if it spends money in the Highway Trust Fund for non-transportation purposes or if it "reduces or otherwise limits the accruing balances of the Highway Trust Fund, for any purpose other than for those activities authorized for the highway or mass transit categories."

The industry group agrees this rule change would destablize the funding stream and push states to scale back highway spending.

"It’s clear that coming into the political environment we are in, with the Tea Party demanding cuts to spending, any notion of guaranteed spending would be something that Republicans would want to look at," U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Janet Kavinoky said. The problem, she adds, is that Congress has failed to update SAFETEA-LU.

"The only thing that is propping up the construction industry is the notion that there is stable funding," Kavinoky said. "If you make this change now and open the possibility to reduce the amount of funding, you are inserting uncertainty to the construction industry, and that is bad for near-term economic growth and in the Chamber’s view, it is bad for long-term economic growth."

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