The good news: Dept. of Transportation construction accounts are among the few federal programs with funding locked in for the rest of fiscal year 2012.
The bad news: Most of those accounts were trimmed or, in the case of high-speed passenger rail, zeroed out. The major exception was mass transit, which got a $447-million boost, including a $358-million hike for the account that funds new transit-line starts.
DOT's FY12 numbers are part of a spending bill enacted on Nov. 18 that also funds the Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development departments. The package also has a continuing resolution to keep all the other federal agencies running through Dec. 16.
Drawing most of construction's attention were the results for highways, by far the largest federally assisted infrastructure program. The core highway line item—the obligation ceiling—was chopped nearly $2 billion, or 5%.
Pam Whitted, National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association senior vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs, is happy the obligation ceiling has a final 2012 number, but adds, "We're disappointed that it goes down at all." She hoped the Senate-recommended $41.1 billion, the same as 2011's level, would prevail. Easing industry's disappointment was $1.7 billion lawmakers added to fix storm-damaged roads.
Nevertheless, says David Bauer, American Road & Transportation Builders Association senior vice president for government relations, "A $2-billion cut is a $2-billion cut." The "saving grace," he says, is that $39.1 billion "is far and away preferable" to the $27 billion the House had recommended. Bauer also sees opportunity for an increase if the House and Senate can move a multiyear highway-transit bill.
That measure is more than two years late, but there is new movement. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) on Nov. 9 approved an $85.3-billion, two-year highway bill. In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other key Republicans on Nov. 17 filled in some details about their not-yet-introduced highway-transit bill. Boehner said the bill would cover five years and have provisions to draw revenue for highways and transit from expanded offshore oil and gas drilling, including part of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, Boehner didn't say how much funding would be in the plan.
Senate EPW Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) criticized the House energy proposals, saying, "[They] would mire a very popular surface-transportation bill in controversy," cost jobs and, according to financial specialists, "fall billions short" of the needed highway revenue.
Story updated on 11/23/11 to correct error in headiine
|Program||FY11 Enacted||FY12||% Change|
|Highway Obligation Limit||$41,107||$39,143||-5%|
|Highway Disaster Relief||N/A||$1,662||NM|
|Federal Transit Administration||$10,107||$10,550||+5%|
|Airport Improvement Program Obligation Limit||$3,515||$3,350||-5%|
|High-Speed Passenger Rail||$-400*||$0||NM|
|Notes: (millions of $) *$400 million in pre-2011 rail funds was rescinded. Numbers are rounded. NM: not measurable Source: House, Senate Appropriations Committees|