Congress has passed a new budget blueprint that would provide relatively modest increases in federal spending for the current fiscal year and the next one. That could provide a boost for construction programs.
The Senate approved the compromise budget legislation early on Oct. 30, two days after the House had cleared the measure. President Obama is expected to sign it soon.
After the measure is enacted, it will be up to congressional appropriations committees to decide how to divide the additional money among the hundreds of individual federal programs, including those that fund construction.
Construction accounts would have to compete against all the other areas of the budget for shares of the increased pie.
Appropriators would have to produce final fiscal 2016 line-item numbers by Dec. 11, when a stopgap spending measure expires.
Jimmy Christianson, director of the Associated General Contractors of America’s federal and heavy construction division, says of the deal, “It’s still a mixed bag.” But he adds that the measure does provide two years with “less of a threat of a government shutdown.”
None of the 12 individual 2016 appropriations bills has been enacted so far. Seeking signals about how construction programs might fare under agreement this year, Christianson has reviewed figures in 2016 spending bills that have moved in the House so far.
“I see [Corps of Engineers] civil works as being a winner in the budget deal,” he says, noting that the program has done well in appropriations bills this cycle.
But on the other hand, Christianson says that firms that focus on General Services Administration public buildings construction would be better off under another stopgap that continues funding at current levels than under a post-budget deal omnibus package.
The deal, worked out among House and Senate leaders and the White House, would prevent $80 billion in mandatory budget sequestration cuts from taking effect in fiscal 2016 and 2017.
It also would hike discretionary spending by $16 billion in each of the next two years.
In all, the budget measure calls for $1.067 trillion in fiscal 2016 discretionary spending. That total would rise only slightly in 2017, to $1.070 trillion.
Within the 2016 discretionary total, nondefense spending—which includes most construction accounts—would receive $518.5 billion.
For 2017, nondefense spending would rise by a mere $40 million from 2016.
The legislation also would lift the U.S. debt limit, through March 15, 2017. The Treasury Dept. has warned that unless Congress acts, the country would hit the ceiling by Nov. 3.