The 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST, Act, had a provision that was never supposed to take effect: a rescission of $7.6 billion in highway contract authority. Many assumed the cut, a gimmick to trim the bill’s price tag for budget “scorekeeping” purposes, surely would be repealed before the reduction actually took effect July 1, 2020. But as 2018 turned to 2019, the 2020 deadline was getting worrisomely close.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials had been lobbying to repeal the cut since soon after the FAST Act was signed. By 2019, the campaign had shifted into overdrive. Leading the push was Jim Tymon, a longtime House staffer who joined AASHTO in 2013 and became executive director in January 2019. “If the rescission were allowed to go into effect,” Tymon says, “it would have had a real effect on construction projects across the country.”
AASHTO’s staff mobilized its members—state department of transportation leaders—who brought the repeal message to home-state U.S. senators and House members, armed with estimates of how hard the cut would hit their areas. To bolster the effort, Tymon and AASHTO assembled a coalition of 30-plus transportation groups, including some from construction and engineering. Senate and House infrastructure committee leaders also played key roles, he notes.
But Tymon and AASHTO needed a legislative vehicle for the repeal language. They tried various must-pass measures, such as a defense authorization, the 2019 budget agreement and a September stopgap continuing resolution, or CR. But no dice. Lawmakers wanted to keep those measures relatively clean of items not viewed as central to the bills.
In late October, the Federal Highway Administration issued a table specifying state-by-state rescission sums. Most alarming was FHWA’s finding that of the $7.6 billion, states had already obligated $2.2 billion to projects and would lose those dollars under the cutback. Unlike rescissions in older highway bills, “This was money that states were planning to put to use,” Tymon says. “It wasn’t just sitting there dormant.”
In November, a new CR emerged and the anti-rescission forces moved to get their provision on board. As Capitol Hill negotiations went on, it was touch and go. Finally on Nov. 18, AASHTO got the word: Repeal was in the bill. Congressional approval followed. President Trump signed the bill on Nov. 21.
Steve Hall, an American Council of Engineering Companies senior vice president, says Tymon and AASHTO “did absolutely sterling work.” Sean O’Neill, a Portland Cement Association senior vice president, says their leadership, persistence and building a coalition to educate Congress about the cut’s impact on DOT contracts were “critically important” in the legislative win.
Tymon plays down his role, crediting state DOT chiefs, leading senators and House members, and industry groups. He also praises AASHTO staffers, singling out Joung Lee, policy and government relations director. “It really was this collective effort,” Tymon says.