Federal lawmakers approved a 27-month, $105 billion surface transportation bill Friday, protecting revenue streams crucial for state and local infrastructure financing despite the absence of municipal bond measures that had been sought by market advocates.
The House approved the bill, the result of a joint conference with the Senate, by a 373-52 vote. The Senate approved it 74-19 about an hour later.
It is based closely on Sen. Barbara Boxer’s two-year, $109 billion bill, but does not include numerous tax provisions present in that legislation. Among those were temporary increases of the cap for bank-qualified bonds and exemption from the alternative minimum tax for private-activity bonds.
The bill was a tough pill for some lawmakers to swallow, as neither side achieved all its goals.
Republicans succeeded in vastly reducing the number of government programs and eliminating earmarks, but they had to drop the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Democrats were forced to accept expedited environmental reviews for infrastructure construction, something they had been loath to agree to.
“It’s not a bill to be proud of,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer told colleagues on the House floor, pointing out the elimination of pedestrian-oriented programs.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla., acknowledged the difficulty of the months-long struggle that ensued after he first filed his five-year $260 billion bill in February.
“It has indeed been a very bumpy road,” Mica said. “I’m not particularly pleased with some of the twists and turns.”
Although the bill does not include the provisions most desired by public finance advocates, it would still assure the flow of federal money from the highway trust fund through 2014, shoring up infrastructure tools like grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds, known as Garvees.
A Congressional Budget Office Report projects that general fund transfers provided for in the bill will keep the highway trust fund solvent through 2014. It had been projected to fail this year.
“We view this bill — as we believe congressional leaders do — as just Step One,” American Road & Transportation Builders Association president Pete Ruane said. “Step Two is coming to grips with how to fund the nation’s investments in transportation infrastructure and mobility over the longer term. That tough job remains.”
The bill also contained a one-year extension of student-loan interest rates at current levels. They would have doubled without new legislation.
The measure was awaiting President Obama’s signature Friday evening.