Reauthorization Ruckus Over Transportation Funding

July 14, 2011 | By Liza Casabona | Post a Comment

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure unveiled its much-anticipated transportation reauthorization proposal earlier this month, kicking off talks that will have a far-reaching impact on state and municipal transportation funding and projects.

The six-year reauthorization proposal, announced by committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla., provides a framework for reauthorizing federal highway, transit and highway safety programs and for revamping rail and maritime transportation policies.

The plan would authorize approximately $230 billion in spending from the Highway Trust Fund for federal highway, transit and highway safety programs over six years. That authorization level would bring expenditures in line with the amount of money currently being deposited into the account. The previous transportation reauthorization bill—part of the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, also known as SAFETY-LU—was  closer to $285 billion over five years. Since that bill expired in 2009, Congress has passed a series of short extensions, the most recent of which expires on Sept. 30.

The House committee has argued that extending the expired transportation reauthorization law at its current level or implementing a shorter-term bill would cause the fund to go broke by 2013 unless revenues are increased, an unpopular option that is unlikely to gain traction. There is strong opposition to raising taxes on the Hill; one recent proposal for an increase to the gas tax floated by transportation advocates was shot down by the committee as something “Congress will not support.”

In his fiscal year 2012 budget to Congress, President Obama called for a six-year plan totaling $556 billion, more than double the size of the House proposal. Obama has advocated for badly needed infrastructure investments that he says would spur job creation and economic growth. For its part, the Senate has introduced a two-year, $109 billion reauthorization plan.

The House proposal was unveiled on July 7 and was promptly panned by critics who charged that the plan contained devastating cuts to transportation funding. A more lukewarm response came from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which welcomed it as an important first step but expressed concern about the proposed levels of funding.

Mica responded to critics of the House proposal on Monday, saying that the attacks were “personal and partisan” and that the proposed plan incorporated input gathered by the committee at bipartisan hearings.

There is broad agreement that something needs to be done to fix the country’s crumbling infrastructure, but given the current political landscape, most transportation reauthorization proposals will face an uphill battle.

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