Seeking to wrap up unfinished appropriations business, the House has approved a $1.09-trillion, catch-all spending package that funds federal agencies, including construction programs, through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2011.
It also extends authorizations for surface transportation and aviation through Sept. 30. Those programs are running on stopgap authorizations, which lapse Dec. 31.
The spending package, which the House narrowly passed on Dec. 8 on 212-206 vote, freezes total discretionary spending at 2010's $1.09-trillion. But many major individual construction programs were cut below their 2010 levels.
The bill does hike Defense Dept. spending by $4.9 billion, but but to keep the grand total at last year's overall level, appropriators trimmed other programs, including some construction accounts.
View summary of House-passed bill at http://appropriations.house.gov/images/stories/pdf/Full/Summary_of_FY11__Year_Long_Funding_Act.pdf
The House vote is not the last word on fiscal 2011 appropriations. The next step is action in the Senate, where Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) reportedly is readying a alternative omnibus package.
Congress must take some action on fiscal 2011 appropriations by Dec. 18, the date on which a current stopgap spending bill expires.
For construction, the new House-approved spending package freezes the Highway Trust Fund-financed highway obligation ceiling at the 2010 mark of $41.1 billion.
But it rescinds $630 million in 2010 highway aid that was financed by the general fund.
David Bauer, American Road and Transportation Builders Association senior vice president for government affairs, says that for highways, "It certainly could have be worse." Republicans' "Pledge to America," for example calls for cutting non-defense, non-veterans spending to 2008 levels.
The House package does continue the popular 'TIGER' grant program for major projects across various transportation modes," at $600 million for fiscal 2011, the same as in 2010.
But it rescinds the $293 million enacted last year for dozens of earmarked projects that were deemed 2010 "surface transportation priorities."
Also cut would be the Dept. of Transportation's high-speed-rail funding, which would be trimmed to $1 billion, from 2010's $2.5 billion. The $1 billion is the amount that President Obama requested for high speed rail for 2011.
At the Dept. of Defense, funds for the current Base Realignment and Closure round would decline 68%, to $2.35 billion, as that program winds down. The $2.35 billion is the amount Obama sought.
In addition, the bill slices the Corps of Engineers civil-works construction program by 11%, to $1.8 billion.
GSA's construction account for new buildings would be slashed 45%, to $493 million. If that program were frozen at the 2010 level, it would total $894 million.
The Dept. of Veterans Affairs' major construction program would be pared 4%, to $1.15 billion.
The Environmental Protection Agency's water infrastructure account would fall 3%, to $4.8 billion.
The nine-month surface transportation authorization extension "doesn't change the fact that we still don't hafe a multi-year bill," notes ARTBA's Bauer. But he adds that the nine-month extension would provide some certainty for the 2011 construction season, which starts in the spring.
If the nine-month authorization is enacted, Bauer says, would mark the first time in three years that the construction season would not be threatened with being disrupted because of authorization worries.