WASHINGTON - The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials expressed dismay Monday over a House bill for a continuing resolution that would keep the U.S. government funded after March 27 when the current CR expires.
H.R. 933, sponsored by House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., would cap federal operating expenses at $982 billion for the remainder of fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30.
AASHTO is unhappy that the transportation spending levels in Roger's CR would be below those specified in the two-year transportation law passed last summer.
Joung Lee, AASHTO's associate director for finance and business development, explained that federal highway spending was authorized at $39.7 billion in that law, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. Rogers' bill, by comparison, would put highway funding at $39.1 billion.
"If we can't increase investment levels, at least maintaining existing authorized highway and transit funding is paramount," Lee said.
Federal-aid highway spending comes from the highway trust fund, a pool of money powered by federal gas tax collections.
Bud Wright, AASHTO's executive director, chided Congress for failing to live up to its agreements and expressed concern about how adopting lower funding levels cut hurt the economy.
"We are disappointed with the surface transportation investment levels contained in the proposed House continuing resolution, which fails to meet funding levels from MAP-21 passed by the Congress just nine months ago," he said. "At a time when our economy continues to struggle to regain its footing, any reduction in transportation infrastructure investment only exacerbates that problem."
The proposed CR would mark the second time MAP-21 has been underfunded since it was first approved following a long and controversial battle last year. Rogers' previous CR, introduced last September to avoid a government shutdown at the end of that month, continued highway spending levels at the levels provided for prior to MAP-21, even though the new law included an inflationary adjustment for highway funding.
Rogers said the CR's overall funding level is subject to sequestration, which is why it is below the $1.043 trillion level agreed to at the beginning of the year.
"It is clear that this nation is facing some very hard choices, and it's up to Congress to pave the way for our financial future," Rogers said. "But right now, we must act quickly and try to make the most of a difficult situation."
The House is expected to take up the measure Thursday, and the Senate would then have to choose whether to pass or amend it.
The Office of Management and Budget issued a White House response critical of Rogers’ bill, saying the funding levels it provides endanger the government’s ability to do its job.
“While the Administration is pleased to see that H.R. 933 is consistent with the mutually agreed upon budget framework in the Budget Control Act of 2011, the bill raises concerns about the government's ability to protect consumers, avoid deep cuts in critical services that families depend on, and implement critical domestic priorities such as access to quality and affordable health care,” read the OMB statement.
The White House will work with Congress to refine the legislation, OMB said, and the president is continuing to work on a comprehensive deficit reduction plan.
“As the Congress considers this bill,” the statement continues, “the Administration will continue to press the Congress to eliminate the automatic and arbitrary cuts to current funding levels imposed by the joint committee sequestration, which will harm middle class and working Americans while costing the Nation's economy hundreds of thousands of jobs.”