Could Congress Let States (Start to) Lose $8.7 Billion in Road Money?

The short answer: Maybe.

13MVC-013L_1.JPG(Photo: USGS.gov)

As Congress rushed to give itself one more month to break the House-Senate stalemate over federal transportation policy, one matter was left unattended — the $8.7 billion in un-obligated highway aid that’s scheduled to start evaporating on Thursday unless lawmakers act to correct the matter.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK), the senior Republican on the environment committee, issued a frustrated press release today warning that his state would lose 1,350 jobs if the $8.7 billion were not reinserted by the Senate before the 2005 transportation law expires tomorrow night.

But time is running out; although environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) promised in July that she would prevent the $8.7 billion from being rescinded, that was before House infrastructure committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) secured passage of a short-term transportation law extension that did not address the highway money.

Under House rules that require new spending to be offset, Oberstar’s short-term measure would have had to find a way to raise the $8.7 billion in road money — and instead of tackling that tough question, the bill didn’t address it.

Governors and highway officials are lobbying fiercely to prevent the money from being revoked, but a resolution may not come before the Senate takes up the House’s one-month transportation stopgap. The U.S. DOT would then have to resort to creative measures to prevent states from canceling projects, with about $1 billion per month potentially on the chopping block, according to the road lobby.

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