A $787-billion economic stimulus package is heading to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature following final congressional approval of the huge package of federal spending and tax breaks. The bill includes an estimated $130 billion in spending for construction programs as well as tax incentives that also will give the industry a boost.

Rail, stimulus
High-speed rail systems were surprise winners in final stimulus bill.

One surprise winner in what Congress approved is high-speed rail, which received $9.3 billion in funding. A big loser was new school construction, which received nothing. And the biggest year for outlays of all kinds will be fiscal 2010.

Final congressional action came late on Feb. 13, when the Senate passed the measure, 60-38, the minimum majority needed for approval. Three Republicans—Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania—joined 55 Democrats and two Independents to vote in favor of the bill. In the House, which approved the stimulus earlier in the day by a 246-183 tally, no Republicans voted for the measure.

Obama is expected to sign the package soon, perhaps as early as Feb. 16.

The Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill’s official legislative scorekeeper, estimates the measure’s price tag at $787.2 billion, and says that about 74% of that cost will be in fiscal 2009 and 2010.

The package's appropriations portion—which includes most of the construction-related spending—will flow out more slowly. CBO estimates that only $34.8 billion, or 11% of the bill’s $308.3 billion in appropriation outlays, will occur by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2009. But 2010 will be a much bigger year, with $110.7 billion in outlays, CBO says.

ENR and the Associated General Contractors estimate that the package provides more than $130 billion in construction spending. Transportation receives the largest share, more than $49 billion, with $27.5 billion of that for highways.

A surprisingly big winner was high-speed rail which emerged in the final bill with $9.3 billion. The version that the Senate approved earlier had about $2.3 billion for high-speed rail and the House-passed bill had just $300 million.

There were some disappointments for construction, too. Probably the biggest was that the final package has no specified funding for school construction, although the initial House bill had $20 billion and the original Senate bill had $19.5 billion.

Collins, a central figure in shaping the final package was opposed to having a new federal school-construction program and to help win her vote, lawmakers stripped out the school construction “line-item” funding.

But they did permit school modernization projects to be eligible for some of the $39.5 billion in “state fiscal stabilization” funds set aside for a broad range of educational purposes. It would be up to local school-district officials to determine how much of their shares of that $39.5 billion would go for such uses as hiring or retaining teachers or for upgrading buildings. New school construction wouldn’t be eligible, however.