While House and
Senate transportation staffers are hopeful for a new highway
and transportation bill by the end of February, another short-term
extension may be needed to keep federal programs operating,
according to Roads and Bridges. The current extension of the
Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) expires
of a new highway bill or a second extension by that date,
the Federal Highway Administration would be forced to shut
In order to meet
the deadline, at least four remaining Congressional Committees
with unfinished work would have to favorably report titles
of the bill, House and leaders would have to agree to schedule
floor time with a very tight legislative calendar, both the
House and Senate would have to pass the bill, a conference
committee would have to resolve hundreds of differences between
the two bodies, and the president would have to agree to sign
it. The likelihood of all of these actions occurring by Feb.
29 is very small.
Among many issues
unresolved at this point, staffers said, is the way to remedy
the revenue aligned budget authority (RABA) provision of TEA
21. Intended as a mechanism to ensure that authorizations
are tied to income in the Highway Trust Fund, the methodology
of calculating RABA came into question when it had the potential
to cause an $8.6 billion cut in the federal highway program
in FY 2003.
In addition to
the reauthorization bill itself, several other related legislative
issues will affect highway funding.
that the FY 2005 budget resolution may have significant impacts
on reauthorization, particularly with regard to funding firewalls
created in TEA 21. Prior to that action, appropriators could
reduce transportation funding in order to find funds to offset
spending in other domestic discretionary programs.
The TEA 21 firewalls
ensured that any savings from reducing transportation spending
could not be used for other programs, thus protecting obligation
levels. Combined with RABA, the bill also made it possible
to increase budget caps to accommodate increased highway spending
based upon additional revenues accumulated in the Highway
All recent spending
caps on domestic discretionary spending have now lapsed, and
are unlikely to be brought up in the FY 2005 budget resolution.
Thus, the possibility exists that if firewalls are not retained,
future spending caps could reduce transportation funding below
levels that the revenue to the Trust Fund could support.
The release of
the Presidents proposed budget for FY 2005 is another
factor that could influence the progress of the reauthorization
legislation. Theres rampant speculation that the Bush
Administration may increase the funding levels of the SAFETEA
bill it unveiled last year, by identifying as-yet undefined
sources of revenue.
That could provide
additional momentum for supporters to complete action on a
long-term bill, albeit it at lower funding levels than those
envisioned by the House and Senate authorizing committees.
Even more urgent
than completion of the reauthorization bill is passage of
appropriations for fiscal year 2004.
extension to 2003 appropriations continues highway spending
at 2003 levels until Jan. 31. However, before that happens,
Congress is expected to pass a final appropriations bill that
would provide $33.6 billion for highways, a $2.2 billion increase
over the FY 2003 level. It also contains $7.3 billion for
transit and $1.2 billion for the passenger-rail service Amtrak.