House votes to extend SAFETEA-LU funding for nine months
December 13, 2010
The United States House of Representatives last week voted to extend federal highway and transit funding in the form of a continuing resolution for another nine months, running from January 1, 2011-September 30, 2011.
This measure was part of a $1.2 trillion federal spending bill, which will now head to the Senate for approval. This continuing resolution is the latest in a series, which have been enacted to keep transportation spending afloat since SAFETEA-LU expired on September 30, 2009.
This funding, which goes toward surface transportation maintenance, development, and construction, has been kept afloat by multiple continuing resolutions typically ranging from four-to-seven weeks and keep funding at current levels.
While continuing resolutions have served as a stop gap to sustain funding at current levels, there is no clear indication if a new bill will come to fruition anytime soon.
With the federal gasoline tax, which has not seen an increase since 1994, serving as the primary funding mechanism for surface transportation funding, the prospect of raising it to generate additional revenue was raised in the final report issued by President Obama’s bipartisan commission charged with reducing the national deficit. The commission proposed to gradually increase the gasoline tax by $0.15 to fund transportation spending beginning in 2013.
And the commission’s draft report noted that raising the gasoline tax, which has been at 18.4 cents for gasoline and 23.4 cents for diesel and has not been increased since 1993, would “dedicate funds toward fully funding the transportation trust fund and therefore eliminating the need for further general fund bailouts.”
But raising the tax has long been labeled by lawmakers on both side of the aisle as a “non-starter,” especially now, given the focus on fiscal austerity in light of the recent mid-term elections.
While these continuing resolutions are a step in the right direction, it is clear that it is not an ideal situation, according to Leslie Blakey, executive director of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors.
“On one hand, it is a good thing to have the work picked back up, but it is only for [a certain amount of time] and does not give us much security in the sense to look ahead, feel confident and get a platform to keep our transportation moving,” said Blakey, in a recent interview. “We need a better foundation than one month at a time and need to get a real bill passed, which is fully-funded and addresses its financing issues.”
For freight and goods movement, Blakey said that a new bill needs a dedicated freight fund as multi-modal, long-term projects take a long time to complete. And construction interruptions for these projects are costly and problematic, due to the complex nature of these projects-with a stop and start approach being detrimental to the country’s economic competitiveness and ability to move forward and keep commerce moving.
The need for a new surface transportation authorization was echoed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). In a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on “The Importance of Transportation Investments to the National Economy and Jobs,” earlier this year. Boxer noted that infrastructure investments enhance business productivity by reducing disruptions that waste money, time, and fuel and undermine the country’s competitiveness.
“The next highway, transit and highway safety authorization provides an opportunity to take a fresh look at these programs and make the changes necessary to ensure our transportation system will meet America’s needs in the coming years,” said Boxer. “At the end of the day it’s a matter of setting the right priorities and crafting innovative and effective means to address them.”
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