Remember those heady days in mid-2009, when Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) introduced an ambitious, half-trillion dollar reauthorization that would transform the country’s infrastructure?
What the House passed last night, as part of the continuing resolution that will keep the government running at current spending levels through the end of the fiscal year, was no transformational piece of legislation. Instead, it was a “clean” extension of the transportation bill with very few changes to the current spending levels. The current extension was set to expire at the end of the year.
Rep. Oberstar has been advocating for a yearlong extension and he supported yesterday’s bill:
An extension of current programs and funding levels is a far cry from my preferred approach to addressing the nation’s growing surface transportation challenges. Meeting the overall needs of the system and developing a 21st Century surface transportation network worthy of being passed on to future generations can only be accomplished through the passage of a robust and transformational long-term surface transportation authorization act.
However, extending these programs through the end of the fiscal year will provide States, localities, and public transit agencies with the degree of certainty necessary to move forward with their capital programs while Congress continues to work toward passage of a long-term surface transportation authorization bill.
The bill rescinds unobligated earmark money, saving, according to Oberstar, $600 million. And some earmarked funds that “disproportionately benefited” certain highway programs will be redistributed to others, including recreational trails, Safe Routes to School, and metropolitan planning programs.
Transportation for America expressed its support for the extension, saying it allows states and localities to move forward with pending projects and gives the House time to craft a long-term reauthorization. T4A did note, “We were disappointed to see the House stifle the development of high-speed rail by cutting of $1.5 billion. We urge the Senate to restore that funding.”
Committee officials say all funding levels are the same as last year.
An extension was clearly necessary to keep the system from grinding to a halt December 31. Rep. John Mica, incoming committee chair, wanted a shorter one. But this yearlong extension effectively takes the transportation authorization out of the hands of the Republicans, at least for now. By the time this extension expires, the presidential campaign season will be upon us, and a meaty, long-term bill will become less likely.
Looking at some of the Republican plans for infrastructure spending, kicking the can down the road a bit might not be such a bad idea.