Transportation Reauthorization Faces Hurdles

October 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

This item, assembled by Aubrey King and David Gorin of King & Gorin, public affairs consultants for the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), was released this week as a “Public Affairs Update” in the latest edition of the ARVC Report, a regular electronic newsletter distributed by the national trade association.

Last ditch efforts to forge agreement on a three-month extension of highway and transit authorizations fell apart in the Senate just hours before the Sept. 30 midnight deadline, coinciding with the end of the federal fiscal year and the statutory expiration of the six-year surface transportation authorization under SAFETE-LU.

Thus, the SAFETEA-LU-mandated rescission of $8.7 billion in highway spending authority went into effect on Sept. 30, while lawmakers separately voted, in a stopgap appropriations measure, to keep all government programs (including transportation spending and authorizations) running largely at FY 2009 levels for 30 more days through the end of October.

What happens next on reauthorization remains uncertain.

While a deal on a three-month extension through Dec. 31, and a retroactive repeal of the rescission, might appear to be at hand, last week’s and last month’s disjointed maneuvering raises concern that the issues and the political calculations at work are somewhat more complicated than originally believed. And despite some outward appearances of harmony, House and Senate committee leaders with main jurisdiction over reauthorization do not seem to be wholly in sync on what exactly can and should be done.

As time was running out after the House had overwhelmingly passed a three-month extension bill the week before, Senate Environment & Public Works Committee leaders, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., abruptly announced that they were backing off their insistence on an 18-month extension and were prepared to settle for three months like the House. But instead of simply rubberstamping the House three-month bill, they were insisting on adding a provision to repeal the rescission of highway funds which, if passed, would require further House action.

All in all, the whole month of September amounted to an extraordinary spectacle for the normally bipartisan highway program in Congress, in which virtually nothing appeared to be resolved on the big issues that confront the program, and even the supposedly simple matter of agreeing on an extension of authorizations was too hard to achieve without the messy default scenario of a stopgap 30-day kickover that pleases virtually no one and only sets up more intrigue for October.

The 30-day extension of transportation authorizations was part of a continuing resolution attached to the legislative branch appropriations bill that prevents a government shutdown, keeping all spending programs whole at FY 2009 levels. A technical correction of the original House-passed version of the continuing resolution allows for apportionments of highway funds at one-twelfth of the FY 2009 level.

But this level is adjusted by the $8.7 billion SAFETEA-LU rescission and by a $3.15 billion appropriations rescission implemented earlier. As a result, authorizations for FY 09 are calculated at about $30 billion, $12 billion less than the $42 billion first authorized under SAFETEA-LU.

For the states, this means that under the October 2009 one-month apportionment, there will be about $1 billion less available than was available for the same month one year ago.

It also inevitably means that states will be unable to plan for any major projects beyond the current month.

With states losing millions of dollars of spending authority under the rescission and the continuing resolution, pressure is likely to quickly mount on members of Congress to resolve the issue.

At least this is what leaders seem to be hoping for, as they now look for extra leverage to convince Congress that not only is a longer extension needed but that a fully funded six-year bill is optimally possible sooner rather than later.
For the longer reauthorization extension beyond October, consensus remains elusive.

Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., and the House still want three-months to Dec. 31 in the hopes of forcing action on a full six year bill by the end of the year.

The Obama Administration remains committed to an 18-month extension, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reiterating again last week that he continues to believe that amount of time will be needed address how to pay for a six-year bill that could cost over $500 billion.

Meanwhile all indications are that Boxer and Inhofe still expect at least an 18-month extension, whether or not it is broken down by interim compromises into shorter three, six or 12-month increments.

ARVC continues to support a full six year reauthorization and has been thanked by Chairman Oberstar for this support.

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