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Short-term answers to a long-term (infrastructure) problem

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
March 24, 2011

While it looks like the 2011 NFL season may be cancelled, that has by no stretch quelled the ongoing game of political football in our nation’s capital.

In what respect, you ask? Why it is none other than the game of transportation infrastructure funding and the ongoing quest by the federal government to see if it can set some sort of Congressional record for continuing resolutions….or keeping 2005 funding levels for SAFETEA-LU intact to handle the problems regarding transportation infrastructure problems of 2011.

If this is the new football, I am going to start paying more attention to other sports for certain.

Think about it for a second. A few weeks ago, Congress signed off on extending funding for federal highway and transit funding through September 30, the end of the fiscal year. This multiple month extension was the seventh of its kind, albeit the lengths have differed for each one.

This measure marks the seventh extension of federal transit funding since SAFETEA-LU expired on September 30, 2009.

Regardless of extension length, though, it is clear that these extensions are more or less serving as a form of political football, with the task at end—coming up with a new bill with valid funding sources—continually getting punted. As you football fans know, punting is a form of defense, not forward progress, which is something we are all waiting for at this point.

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. The primary funding mechanism for surface transportation—the federal gasoline tax at 18.4 cents for gasoline and 23.4 cents for diesel—has not been increased since 1993.

When these previous continuing resolutions were granted, there was no clear picture as to the future reauthorization and if or when a new long-term alternative would be offered up. But that recently changed when the White House recently released its proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal.

Included in this proposal was a six-year, $556 billion surface transportation reauthorization proposal. if enacted, would be more than 60 percent above the inflation-adjusted levels of SAFETEA-LU (The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users), which expired on September 30, 2009, and has been kept afloat at the same funding level by the series of continuing resolutions.

Transportation infrastructure experts have told LM that without a viable funding mechanism in place, the future for transportation infrastructure funding is likely to remain in its current situation.

“We are transitioning into a new environment; the stimulus package contained a great deal of transportation funding and that is running out so there is more urgency, especially on the state side to get a transportation bill done,” said Payson Peabody, of counsel, at Washington, D.C.-based law firm Dykema Gossett PLLC. “In Congress the picture is seen as less favorable as there is no appetite for an increase in the gas tax, especially with the current situations in Libya and the Middle East, which has contributed to spikes in oil prices. The administration’s budget is still written under the old rules of the game, with a $500 billion-plus price tag for reauthorization. And there is no way to get to that figure without a substantial gas tax increase. So the administration and Congress do not seem to be on the same page.”

Janet Kavinoky, Vice President, Americans for Transportation Mobility, and Executive Director, Congressional and Public Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, noted that in order to get a fully-funded six-year transportation bill, these ongoing extensions need to end.

“There has to be quick action to get a new bill done soon,” said Kavinoky. “But for now there is some certainty on funding, and it gives Congress time to roll up its sleeves and get to work on crafting a long-term bill.”

Yes, it would be nice to see them roll up the sleeves and get this done. I know Representative John Mica and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are conducting listening sessions to gather input for a new bill, which, I am told, could get marked up as soon as April. That would most certainly show the freight and logistics community—and the country for that matter—that the wheels are turning on progress.

That would be a welcome change to the constant punting we have grown accustomed to. I know football may be gone for a while, but I will take a first down over a punt any time.

What do you think? Newsroom Notes wants to know.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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