Senate transportation leaders are pushing for a six-month extension of programs that provide funding to states and metropolitan areas for highways, bridges, and other surface transportation projects, Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told officials gathered in California over the weekend.
But House Transportation Committee chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., is “not working on a six-month extension” and may continue to push for an extension only through the end of this year, his spokesman said yesterday.
Boxer made the remarks at a conference Sunday sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Boxer told attendees that it “hurts to not have predictability” with regard to transportation programs, AASHTO said in a release.
The current transportation funding authorization — Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU — has been extended by a stopgap measure until the end of this week. Predictability of funding has been cited by both sides as lawmakers and interest groups battle over whether reauthorization can or should happen now.
The Senate’s six-month bill would be a modification of earlier, conflicting proposals by House and Senate transportation leaders.
Boxer previously pushed for an 18-month extension of SAFETEA-LU. That proposal would have postponed votes on a multi-year transportation bill — and potential tax increases to pay for the bill — until after the 2010 elections. It was approved by three Senate committees and had the support of the Obama administration.
But Oberstar blasted the proposal as a needless delay and swore not to support any extension. Oberstar’s multi-year surface transportation reauthorization, which would substantially alter federal programs and oversight of public-private partnerships and tolling, has been pending since summer in the committee. The tax committees have yet to consider related tax provisions.
The chairman later relented and introduced a bill that would extend current programs to the end of this year. The House approved Oberstar’s extension by a vote of 335 to 85, and it is still pending in the Senate.
Oberstar is not ruling out the possibility of a six-month extension, according to committee spokesman Jim Berard.
“We would want to look at the details of [the Senate’s] bill before we would decide,” Berard said. “Oberstar’s smart enough to never say never.”
However, he questioned whether the six-month delay would be intended to provide more time to work on a multi-year reauthorization “or just a delay for the sake of a delay,” Berard said.