A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reveals that the White House is changing course when it comes to the federal surface transportation funding bill. Obama is now calling for a road-construction bill that would put people to work immediately and get existing infrastructure projects underway. This represents a change from previous plans for developing a national infrastructure bank – a plan that would take years before it actually began to fund projects.
The new plan from the White house and Democrats is to pass a two-year, $109 billion bill but as we’ve discussed before House Republicans have different ideas:
The plan is likely to run into opposition elsewhere in Congress, however. House Republicans are pushing a six-year, $230 billion bill. Their plan would reduce transportation spending by about a third from existing levels, as it relies only on funds generated by the current 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gas tax.
So there’s the possibility for another stalemate over the bill once Congress returns from August recess. There is one idea that seems to have bipartisan support, and that’s an expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure and Innovative Finance Act (TIFIA) which is the backbone of Mayor Villaraigosa and Metro’s American Fast Forward plan (previously known as the 30/10 Initiative).
TIFIA provides low cost loans, guarantees and credit lines to eligible projects. Project eligibility is weighted by a number of factors including economic significance, quality of life improvements, public-private partnerships and environmental sustainability.
TIFIA’s annually funding is currently $122 million but proposals for expansion from both the House and Senate would raise funding to $1 billion and modify requirements so that more projects would be eligible.
This is all starting to matter because the clock is ticking: the deadline for passing the new transportation bill or extending the current bill is September 30 (Congress returns to work on September 6) . If a new bill isn’t passed or the current bill extended it would mean the shutdown the entire federal funding program for highways and transit – an outcome that would put the recent FAA shutdown to shame.