The House this week was initially faced with a vote on a motion to instruct conferees to cut transportation funding levels, only to have that motion withdrawn late Thursday afternoon on a technical issue.
The motion from Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) would have tied Highway Trust Fund expenditures to estimated gas tax revenues, essentially cutting the nation’s surface transportation program by an estimated thirty percent. By asking that the conference report not exceed $37.9 billion in federal spending in 2012 and $37.5 billion in 2013, there would be approximately $17 billion less in spending than the Senate’s two-year bill and $15 billion less than H.R. 7. ASCE strongly opposed the motion and sent a letter to all Members of the House of Representative urging them to vote against the measure. It is uncertain when Representative Broun will seek a different time to bring up his motion again, although it is expected he will reintroduce it sometime mid to late next week.
Meanwhile, conference committee talks are beginning to wear down. Negotiations on the funding title for a new program have yet to commence, while disagreements over streamlining provisions have threatened talks. Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) continues to work toward passing a bill by June 30th, but has urged organizations to continue to push House Republicans on the importance of passing a bill now, as opposed to another extension.
The Transportation Construction Coalition, of which ASCE is a member, held its annual legislative fly-in this week. Over 400 representatives of the engineering and construction industry, including some ASCE members and staff, hit Capitol Hill on Thursday to urge their legislators to support a surface transportation bill. Before members went on Congressional visits they heard from Conference Committee Vice-Chairman John Mica (R-FL), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), and staff from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Key Contacts on Thursday got a first-hand briefing on transportation authorization from senior Senate staff actively involved in the current conference committee negotiations.
Bettina Poirier, staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and David Napoliello, senior policy advisor for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, briefed Key Contacts during a conference call Thursday afternoon, saying that staff and the conferees understand that maintaining the status quo in the form of further extensions of SAFETEA-LU is simply no longer acceptable. They continue to work toward developing a conference report before the current extension runs out June 30, and they remain optimistic that this can happen.