WASHINGTON — The House Transportation Committee is expected to vote next week on a bill to extend the current transportation authorization law before it expires at the end of the month, but still needs to bridge the large gap between its own timeline and the Senate’s before the extension can move forward.
Senate committees with jurisdiction over highways and transit have approved an 18-month extension of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU, while the House committee’s highways and transit panel has approved a multi-year bill instead of an extension. Faced with a lack of support for full reauthorization right now, House highways and transit subcommittee chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has suggested a three-month extension.
“Where we are with those negotiations at the [time of the vote next week] may change that number” from three months, said committee spokesman Jim Berard.
The Obama administration said during the summer that postponing the next multi-year bill until 2011, after the next congressional election, is necessary to provide agreement on controversial revenue proposals that would pay for the bill’s programs.
But House Transportation chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., and others on the committee railed against the proposal to extend the law. They warned it would do harm by creating uncertainty for state transportation departments. State transportation departments generally use multi-year federal funding expectations to plan their projects and bond sales.
As a result, Oberstar threatened to quash any attempt to delay passage of a multi-year bill, but has since softened his stance. However, Oberstar is “still opposed to an 18-month delay,” Berard said.
The extension that is anticipated for committee vote will be about 75 pages long, the spokesman said, but will be a so-called clean extension, one that does not create or cancel programs.
Meanwhile, the National Governors Association sent a letter last week to House and Senate leaders asking them to repeal a legal mandate that would force the federal government to rescind from the states $8.7 billion of federal contract authority that remains unobligated.
The rescissions are included in the SAFETEA-LU law that may be extended. Rescissions also are mandated in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
“Congress passed the rescission provision well before our nation fell into recession,” the NGA wrote in a letter signed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, who head the association’s economic development and commerce committee.
If the funds are rescinded, it will reverse progress made toward economic recovery and job creation, they said.