AASHTO Journal, 7 August 2015
Although Congress has begun its August recess, infrastructure investment advocates are keeping up the pressure for lawmakers to soon give the Highway Trust Fund long-term operating authority and increased funding.
The pressure campaign started immediately after Congress sent a short-term HTF extension to President Obama on July 30. The House began its recess that day, while the Senate remained in session a week longer, after leaders in both chambers said they plan to produce a long-term bill this autumn.
On July 31, before the president signed the measure to extend the trust fund through Oct. 29, he spent several minutes telling reporters how repeated short extensions and last-minute congressional actions disrupt states’ infrastructure programs and weakens business planning.
Obama said: “We have now made it a habit where instead of five-year funding plans for transportation, instead of long-term approaches where we can actually strategize on what are the most important infrastructure projects, how are they getting paid for, providing certainties to governors and mayors and states and localities about how they’re going to approach critical infrastructure projects – roads, bridges, ports, airports – instead, we operate as if we’re hand-to-mouth three months at a time.”
That approach, the president said, “freezes a lot of construction, which makes people uncertain, which leads to businesses not being willing to hire because they don’t have any long-term certainty. It’s a bad way for the U.S. government to do business.”
While he also commented on some other issues, Obama said that when lawmakers return in September “I hope that we have a longer-term approach to transportation. We can’t keep on funding transportation by the seat of our pants, three months at a time. It’s just not how the greatest country on Earth should be doing its business.
“I guarantee you this is not how China, Germany, other countries around the world – other big, powerful countries around the world handle their infrastructure. We can’t have bridges collapsing and potholes not being filled because Congress can’t come up with an adequate plan to fund our infrastructure budget for more than three or five or six months at a time.”
Even before Obama spoke, the Transportation Construction Coalition had said its 31 member trade associations and labor unions would press members of Congress during the August break.
“Members of the TCC will spend the August recess making sure all House members hear from their constituents about the need for the House to pass a meaningful, long-term surface transportation bill in September,” the group’s leaders said.
At the American Association of Port Authorities, CEO Kurt Nagle praised the Senate for passing a six-year bill that includes a strong freight portion to help improve trade corridors, and said his group will push for Congress to pass a final bill before the Oct. 29 trust fund expiration.
“AAPA commends the Senate for passing a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill,” Nagle said. “This legislation includes a number of provisions advocated by the port industry to help address our nation’s sizable freight transportation needs, including the critical ‘first and last mile’ connections and trade corridors into and out of seaports.”
He also said that group “will continue advancing our freight policy priorities with the House as it takes up its reauthorization legislation … We’re hopeful of final enactment of a long-term surface transportation bill, containing robust freight provisions and sustainable funding, by the October 29th deadline.”
On Aug. 3 another business group with national reach weighed in. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers said it is asking members to contact Congress through its “I Make America” messaging campaign website, or by attending a congressional meeting this month “to urge House members to finish the important work started by the Senate on a long-term highway bill.
News agencies also continue to report on the effects of short extensions in highway funding. The business television network CNBC reported that stock prices for materials or equipment suppliers suffer as those deadlines hit.
“Investors ditch building material and machinery companies every time those extensions expire,” CNBC said, citing an analytical tool used by hedge funds.
Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, has said recent developments in Congress are “encouraging” about prospects for a long-term bill to be finalized this fall. But he also said each month of delay before a bill is passed puts more pressure on states to delay some construction projects.
“Some states make decisions during the autumn about their next-year construction projects, while others have repeatedly delayed projects from bid schedules this year because Congress only authorized the federal highway program for a few months at a time,” Wright told AASHTO Journal.
“Every month Congress takes to complete a long-term reauthorization puts more economic development at risk back home,” he added. “That’s why we call for Congress to complete its work quickly, so those and future investments can go forward to strengthen America’s economy.”