In a big construction victory, a spending bill to fund most federal programs through fiscal 2007 has a $3.4-billion hike for the federal highway program. The increase, to $39.1 billion, is a major exception to the $463.5-billion measure’s general rule, which freezes programs at their 2006 levels. “We’re ecstatic,” says Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors’ highway and transportation division.

Highway interests pushed for a $39.1-billion obligation ceiling in the joint funding resolution, arguing that was the sum the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users guaranteed for 2007. But they feared budget pressures would prompt the Appropriations Committee chairmen, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), to recommend a lower figure. When the lawmakers unveiled their bill Jan. 29, SAFETEA-LU’s number was in there.

Highlights of the 2007 Spending Package
(millions of $)
Highway obligation ceiling
Federal Transit Administration


Corps of Engineers construction
EPA Clean Water State Revolving Funds
EPA Clean Water State Revolving Funds
VA major construction


DOD base realignment and closure


*Excludes 2006 Supplemental Spending Bills
Source: House and Senate Appropriations Committees

“This was huge,” says Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association vice president for government affairs. Having appropriators include the SAFETEA-LU mark means a $3.4 billion construction infusion and also bolsters that 2005 law’s guarantees, says Jack Basso, chief operating officer for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Another winner is Clean Water State Revolving Funds, in line for a 22% gain. “While we think it’s a good start, it’s only that,” says Adam Krantz, National Association of Clean Water Agencies’ managing director for government and public affairs. In the long range, his group wants a water trust fund.

Byrd and Obey turned to the catch-all approach after the last Congress cleared only two of the 11 appropriations bills for 2007. Unfinished bills cover nearly all non-defense construction. To get $10 billion for increases in highways, veterans, education and other priorities, the chairmen made offsetting cuts. Corps of Engineers construction was one infrastructure area that was nicked.

Sensitive to criticism of "earmarks," Byrd and Obey deleted from their package projects specified in House or Senate 2007 spending bills. Basso says that could let states compete for about $400 million in no-longer-earmarked discretionary aid for bridges and other projects. The House approved the measure Jan. 31, by a 286-140 vote; Senate action will follow. The deadline is Feb. 15, when a stopgap lapses.

Odds look good for passage, but Hansen warns, “We don’t have long to savor this.” When the White House releases its fiscal 2008 budget plan Feb. 5, he expects the funding battle to resume.