As Congress returns from its July 4 break, construction groups' priorities include the unfinished set of fiscal 2008 appropriations bills, a long-delayed Water Resources Development Act and a multiyear aviation measure. Final action on most of those items probably won't come until after lawmakers' August recess.
By early July, the House had passed six of the eleven 2008 appropriations bills, including those funding Interior Dept. and Environmental Protection Agency programs. The Senate approved none of the spending measures.
One construction appropriations priority is Clean Water State Revolving Funds. The House-passed Interior-environment bill has $1.1 billion for SRFs, 4% above 2007. In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee cleared a bill allocating $887 million. Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies' vice president for government affairs, says he is "guardedly optimistic" that the final SRF number will exceed President Bush's $688-million request.
Congress also is working to pass the first WRDA bill since 2000. House and Senate aides are narrowing differences between bills that authorize at least $13.9 billion for Corps of Engineers projects. An industry source says staffers "still have a number of open items, but the optimism runs high." The source says floor action could occur before September.
Senate and House transportation panels approved four-year aviation bills with $15.8 billion for airport grants. The Senate version also boosts passenger fees, which fund infrastructure. The revenue piece isn't complete, however. David Bauer, American Road & Transportation Builders Association senior vice president, says, "You've got to watch what "the tax committees are going to do and when."
Construction also is pushing a bill to repeal a mandate taking effect in 2011 that agencies must withhold for tax purposes 3% of payments on projects topping $100 million. "People in the construction industry operate on such slim margins sometimes that to have 3% withheld...is going to make life miser-able for contractors," says Freeman Smith, American Subcontractors Association manager of government relations. The bills haven't cleared committee yet, but industry officials say they are gaining momentum, with 170 co-sponsors in the House and eight in the Senate.