...and storage technology. The Yucca Mountain program would be scaled back while the administration develops a new strategy for nuclear-waste disposal.

The budget also proposes $5 billion in 2010 for establishing a National Infrastructure Bank, although little detail is provided as to how the bank would be funded or how it would work. The budget recommends continuing $5-billion annual funding for the bank through 2014. During the campaign for the White House, Obama advocated such a financial mechanism, funded at about $60 billion.

The envisioned bank might well look like an institution proposed in 2007 in a bill sponsored by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). Under the Dodd-Hagel bill, the bank would provide assistance to states, localities, transit agencies or others that want to build infrastructure projects. The bank’s aid would take a variety of forms, including subsidies, loan guarantees and tax-credit general-purpose or project-specific bonds. The Dodd-Hagel bill initially capped the bank’s bond-issuing limit at $60 billion. The bill did not go anywhere in the last Congress, but Obama was one of its co-sponsors. ASCE’s Pallasch says of the infrastructure-bank concept, "When you’re looking at big projects that have the ability to generate revenue, it is a very good option. It is for those big, transformative projects."

Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, says some of the reduction in the federal deficit would be achieved by allowing tax breaks to expire in 2011 for families earning more than $250,000 a year and individuals earning more than $200,000. Additional offsets could be gained by making government "more efficient" by focusing on "programs that work" and ending support for programs that do not, Orszag says.

Unfinished Business

As the debate begins on the 2010 budget, Congress is moving toward resolving unfinished spending business for the current fiscal year. Before last November’s election, Congress approved three of the 13 appropriations bills for fiscal 2009. Programs receiving full-year funding were those covered by the defense, military construction-veterans affairs and homeland security appropriation bills.

But programs financed by the other nine spending bills—including such construction accounts as highways, transit, Corps of Engineers’ civil works and General Services Administration federal buildings—have been operating since last Oct. 1 under a stopgap bill, generally at their 2008 appropriated levels.

With that catchall bill slated to lapse on March 6, the House on Feb. 25 approved a $410-billion measure that wraps the nine bills together and funds them through the end of fiscal 2009, with some changes, upward and downward, from 2008 levels.

Federal-aid highway obligation limit 41,216* 40,700 -1
Federal Transit Administration 9,358 10,131 +8
FAA Airport Improvement Program grants 3,514 3,514 0
DOE defense environmental cleanup 5,332 5,640 +6
Corps of Engineers construction 2,294 2,141** -6
Bureau of Reclamation water/related resources 950 920 -3
EPA water infrastructure 2,926 2,968 +1
—Clean Water State Revolving Funds 689 689 0
—Drinking Water State Revolving Funds 829 829 0
EPA Superfund 1,254 1,285 +2
GSA construction 306 746 +144
GSA repairs and alterations 722 692 -4
State Dept. embassy security, construction and maintenance 1,502 1,748 +16
Bureau of Prisons buildings and facilities 373 576 +54
HUD public-housing capital fund 2,454 2,450 0
HUD revitalization of distressed public housing 100 120 20

For construction programs, the 2009 bill showed some increases but other decreases. The largest percentage gain was in GSA’s construction account for public buildings, to which appropriators allotted $746 million, more than double the 2008 mark. Major GSA project allocations include $163 million to continue work at a Food and Drug Administration complex in Maryland and $110 million for a federal courthouse in San Diego.

For the key transportation sector, the bill’s totals "look perfectly respectable," says Cathy Connor, Parsons Brinckerhoff senior vice president and manager of government affairs. The largest federally aided construction program, highways, would receive $40.7 billion, down 1% from last year, but the 2008 total included a special $1-billion infusion to upgrade bridges. Transit would get an 8% hike, while airport construction grants would stay at the 2008 level.

At ENR press time, the Senate was debating the bill, and advocates of the measure were pointing to some hopeful signs. The bill had gained the backing of Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.), the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, but he was not enthusiastic. "I am supporting the approval of this bill by the Senate even though the process that has brought us to this point has left a lot to be desired," Cochran said.

The measure’s supporters also turned back a proposal from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to hold the programs’ spending at their 2008 levels. McCain continued his vociferous criticism of earmarked funding for individual projects. Taxpayers for Common Sense, an advocacy group, counts 8,570 earmarks totaling $7.7 billion in the pending appropriations package, though the group says the Appropriations Committee’s estimate is $3.8 billion in earmarks. McCain’s amendment failed on March 3 in a 63-32 vote, three votes more than the 60 needed to ensure Senate passage of the $410-billion bill.

If the Senate is unable to finish work on the measure before March 6, a short-term continuing resolution would be required. "It would certainly be disappointing if there had to be another CR," says Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Connor. "I think we just need to get this bill done and move on."