...count the added funds Bush will seek to continue to fight the Iraq war.
"The focus in the second term is going to be reducing the deficit and thats going to have an impact on domestic spending across the board," says Sandherr. "I dont expect that construction programs...are going to be immune from that." In fact, Bush has urged Congress to show "spending discipline" as it takes up the remaining 2005 appropriations bills in the coming lame-duck session.
"I think the budget deficit is going to loom even more importantly than it has been," says Mortimer Downey, chairman of Parsons Brinckerhoffs PB Consult unit. Particularly with the election of conservative GOP Senators, "the pressure is going to be on for budget-cutting, holding the line," he says.
"I think that we do have some worries," Whitted adds. Mostly, they center on the transportation bill reauthorization, she says. There may be an attempt to pass a multiyear highway and transit bill in the lame-duck session. If that fails, lawmakers would have to start all over again. Another deadline isnt far off. The latest extension of highway and transit programs lapses May 31.
Before the election recess, congressional negotiators floated proposals for a $300-billion bill, but did not reach an agreement. Downey says some in Washington are saying that if they can strike a deal on $300 billion in the lame duck, "we ought to take it and run." Money may be tighter in 2005, they reason. With White House and congressional deficit hawks clashing with "donor" states who want higher returns on fuel taxes paid, "it could be a real food fight," Downey says.
Not everyone is so bearish. Fredric Berger, senior vice president with Louis Berger Group Inc., predicts a transport measure will be enacted in 2005. "The transportation bill is an employment bill and I think that jobs are getting more and more important" as a national issue, he says.
Most of the bills funds will come from fuel taxes flowing to the Highway Trust Fund, Berger notes. "And if the bills going to start in [fiscal] 06 and the returning administration has aggressive plans to continue stimulating the economy, then Im sure theyll be forecasting based on increased [trust fund] receipts."
To pump more money into the bill, "I think we have to look at some creative financing," such as bonds, says Nick Yaksich, vice president of government relations for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. He says that "the needs are still there, but I think were already hearing [about plans for] further tax cuts." That would make it difficult to increase transportation spending by raising the gasoline tax, he notes.