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Will A Permanent Federal Highway Appropriations Bill Ever Get Passed?

6/13/2012 | Construction Blog

On March 31st of this year, Congress passed a stopgap highway transportation funding bill for the 9th consecutive time. That 90 day extension avoided a complete cutoff of funding to construction and state transportation funds and is set to expire again on June 30th. With Democrats and Republicans in Congress still battling it out, a 10th stopgap bill now seems more likely.

Congress has not passed a long term federal highway transportation funding bill in the approximately 33 months since the last one lapsed in September 2009. The Senate passed Senate Bill 1813 in March of this year that would include $109 billion in funding. Speaker of the House John Boehner, however, has rejected the Senate bill and pointed to what he has termed “revenue raising gimmicks”. In its place he has proposed a five year $260 billion piece of legislation that will cover significantly more ground and include a number of energy industry initiatives. He is having trouble getting the necessary support in the House to pass his version of the bill according to the Engineering News Record though. Speaker Boehner will even have to put pressure on members of his own party to pass his bill.

This legislation impacts the construction industry, and surface highway contractors in particular, because it provides funds to perform infrastructure and highway related work. Unfortunately, it also includes a number of other issues on which the two political parties differ significantly. Things like tax credits for renewable energy interests, alternative fuel vehicle incentives, and other non-construction related issues are still being debated vociferously between the parties and holding up passage of the legislation.

Given that it is an election year, the rhetoric will likely increase. Action by Congress to pass the highway transportation bill – particularly since it appropriates money in an election year where the economy and government spending will be a hot button issue -seems very unlikely. The introduction of a 10th stopgap measure in to the conversation in recent weeks has done nothing to allay the fears of those still holding out hope for a long term deal. With a Congressional recess quickly approaching and election season hitting full swing shortly thereafter, those in the construction industry should not expect much more than an effort to “kick the can down the road” before the June 30th deadline.