AASHTO Journal, 16 September 2016
A panel representing three major infrastructure investment organizations is urging Congress to quickly approve 2017 transportation appropriations with already authorized increases, and to kill a Senate proposal that would strip $2.2 billion out of certain highway programs.
The panel is the Joint Committee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association and the Associated General Contractors of America.
Its call for congressional action on transportation funding was one of several resolutions the committee adopted at a Sept. 10 meeting, and sent to the three associations’ boards for formal approval votes when those bodies next convene.
One issue spurring the groups to this action was that Congress is not expected to complete a full-year appropriations bill for transportation programs before the Oct. 1 start of the 2017 federal fiscal year.
Instead, lawmakers are reportedly negotiating over a short-term funding bill that would freeze government-wide spending at 2016 levels through Dec. 9. That would allow Congress to recess soon so members could campaign ahead of November elections, and deal with controversial budget issues afterward.
But the short-term funding – through a continuing resolution – also means the highway, transit and passenger rail programs covered in last year’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act will not receive the scheduled Oct. 1 funding increases Congress authorized in that five-year bill until lawmakers finally negotiate the full-year appropriations.
That potential for more than two months’ disruption in the federal funding stream comes at a time when many state departments of transportation are drawing up project lists to begin bidding out for next year’s construction season. While they can reasonably expect Congress to eventually provide all the FAST Act funding, the DOTs and transit agencies can’t officially count on the higher spending levels until Congress acts.
Some lawmakers even reportedly prefer to push 2017 budget talks into next year, as the associations’ panel observed.
The AASHTO-AGC-ARTBA Joint Committee resolution said that “putting off enactment of a fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Transportation until well into calendar year 2017 – as some members of Congress are currently proposing – would needlessly delay critical highway and public transportation investment increases and renew uncertainty about future federal-aid funding.”
The resolution also calls the Senate-proposed $2.2 billion rescission of highway program contract authority a “budget gimmick.” Such action, it said, makes it harder for state DOTs to meet their infrastructure needs “and disrupts transportation planning and timely delivery of projects.”
So the associations’ joint committee called on the House and Senate to pass a final USDOT 2017 appropriations bill this year that “provides, at a minimum, the highway and public transportation investment levels authorized by the FAST Act, and includes no rescission of unobligated highway contract authority.”
The resolution also calls on President Obama “to sign this legislation expeditiously when it is passed in Congress.”