As the House and Senate begin a short pre-election session, their agenda includes important construction bills that must pass before their adjournment, expected around Oct. 1. They include an omnibus spending package to fund agencies for at least several months and an extension for airport construction grants and other aviation programs. Industry and state transportation officials also hope Congress will approve an $8-billion boost for the ailing Highway Trust Fund. But with few days left before the 110th Congress ends, other industry-desired measures may not make it.

As of Sept. 8, the Senate had not passed any of the 12 appropriation bills for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The House had cleared only one, funding military construction and veterans’ programs. That makes a massive stopgap “continuing resolution” a necessity to keep agencies running. How long will the stopgap last? Cathy Connor, Parsons Brinckerhoff senior vice president for government affairs, says she has heard it could carry through Election Day to December or January.

Authority for aviation programs, including Airport Improvement Program construction grants, extended several times since September 2007, now is due to expire on Sept. 30. Another multi-month extension is likely.

Highway Trust Fund ‘fix’ With DOT’s new support, likely to pass, could be part of broader spending package.
FY 2009 spending Must pass by Oct.1 to avoid government shutdown. Large stopgap ‘continuing resolution’ extending for several months is likely
FAA authorization (including airport grants) Must pass by Oct. 1 to avoid funding cutoff. Multimonth bill’s passage likely
Tax breaks Renewable-energy incentives expire Dec. 31. Alternative minimum tax break has support too.
New economic stimulus package Democrats will push for bill with some infrastructure spending. Passage possible, at best.

Set to lapse on Dec. 31 are various tax incentives, including breaks for renewable-energy projects. There is support for extending those breaks and renewing a provision that shielded millions of individuals from the alternative minimum tax in 2007. “They’ve been trying for a long time to get that [extender] bill done,”says David Bauer, American Road and Transportation Builders Association senior vice president for government affairs. But, he adds, “You’ve got an ideological rift there between the parties [over] whether or not tax cuts have to be offset” with revenue-raising provisions.

On another front, Democratic congressional leaders are pushing for a new economic-stimulus bill that would include infrastructure spending. Republicans have not been enthusiastic about such a measure.