Photo courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports
Industry wants to avoid a cutoff in FAA airport grants, which help to finance runway projects (above) and other infrastructure work.

With only a few scheduled working days left this month, Congress must hustle to act on legislation to fund the government past Sept. 30, when the 2015 fiscal year ends. Also due to expire on that date is the Federal Aviation Administration’s authorization. Stopgap extensions are likely.

If Congress doesn’t at least pass a short government-wide continuing resolution (CR), by Oct. 1, agencies’ operations would be curtailed sharply or cut off. It also would bring back the nearly across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. The sequester would take hold on Oct. 1 unless Congress decides otherwise.

Leading Democrats have been pushing—so far without success—for bipartisan budget negotiations to avoid the sequester and set spending levels for the next year or two. Such talks resulted in a two-year budget pact in December 2013.

Jeffrey Shoaf, Associated General Contractors of America senior executive director for government affairs, says, “I think the Democrats have laid out a pretty strong demand that they want a commitment for some sort of broader [budget] negotiations before they can commit to any CR.”  He adds, “And it seems like Republicans in the House and possibly the Senate are going to need Democratic support for whatever they do to keep the government open.”

The expected CR’s span isn’t clear, but construction lobbyists think it would extend only for a matter of weeks. Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies vice president for government affairs, says, “The bigger question now is whether contentious issues such as [federal funding for] Planned Parenthood…get in the way of a CR. We don’t want to see a shutdown of federal agencies.”

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Sept. 10 that he has started to confer with his colleagues about a CR. “No decisions have been made,” he said.

Shoaf thinks a stopgap FAA bill could be tacked on to a CR, though the aviation measure might extend longer than the overall spending bill.

For construction groups, a prime focus in an FAA bill would be funding for Airport Improvement Program grants, which help finance runways and other infrastructure. The program’s 2015 appropriation is $3.35 billion.

The last FAA reauthorization was messy, requiring 23 short extensions before a bill enactment in 2012. The worst period was a two-week gap in authorizations in summer 2011 that caused work to stop on scores of airport contracts worth more than $10.5 billion. That hiatus was “really damaging to the industry,” Hall recalls.

The American Association of Airport Executives and the Airports Council International-North America want to avoid a repeat of 2011. They have urged Congress to pass a new one- or two-year extension. In a Sept. 8 letter to Congress, AAAE CEO Todd Hauptli and ACI-NA CEO Kevin Burke said airports need at least a 12-month bill to plan projects.