|Inhofe says extension's highway funding is 7% hike over 2003. (Photo courtesy of office of Sen. James Inhofe)|
Congress has acted to stave off an impending shutdown of federal highway and transit funding by approving a five-month extension of the current law, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. The final congressional step on the short-term extension came on Sept. 26 when the Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent. The bill now goes to President Bush for his signature.
TEA-21 expires on Sept. 30 and the Federal Highway Administration will be unable to reimburse states for road funding obligations after that date.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) says the extension uses the budget resolution highway figure as a base, providing $14.8 billion in road aid through Feb. 29. That equals a 7% increase over the fiscal year 2003 level, he says.
While industry, state and federal officials can breathe a bit easier now that funds are likely to keep flowing, the relief is only temporary. A multiyear replacement for TEA-21 still requires a breakthrough of the logjam that has blocked the long-term bill for many months.
On one side is House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), who with a group of House allies and support from some construction groups, wants a $375 billion, six-year bill--more than 70% richer than TEA-21's total.But reaching that $375-billion total requires raising the federal motor fuels tax.
On the other side of the divide is the White House, which has objected to a fuels-tax hike. The Bush administration has proposed a more modest new transportation bill pegged at $247 billion over six years, 19% higher than TEA-21.