Questions about the size and scope of a new authorization bill come as Washington weighs infrastructure's role in economic growth
By Emil Frankel
There suddenly seems to be an up-surge in activity on a new surface transportation authorization bill. The authority for the federal surface transportation programs, SAFETEA-LU, enacted in 2005, expired on September 30, 2009, and we are now in the eighth extension of this act (the latest extension will expire on March 31, 2012). The key authorizing committees in both houses of Congress, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T & I) and the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), which has responsibility for the highway programs, seem to be moving toward marking-up committee bills.
However, there is no clear indication of how these programs will be fully funded, and there remains disagreement about the length of the two proposals. T & I Republican Chair John Mica has spoken about a six-year bill at the level of current revenues, which is about 30 percent lower than current program authorities. The chair of EPW, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, and the Ranking Republican, James Inhofe, have spoken of a two-year bill at current program levels, but additional revenues would have to be identified to meet these levels. There is no indication that the Senate Finance Committee has found the additional resources for even a two-year bill.