Officials in New Jersey, New York and other East Coast states seeking to rebuild from Hurricane Sandy—and construction firms that would carry out the reconstruction projects—are hoping for quick Senate approval of a $50.5-billion recovery aid package that the House cleared on Jan. 15.
The measure's largest infrastructure allocations are $10.9 billion for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and $5.3 billion for Army Corps of Engineers civil-works projects. John Doyle, special counsel with the law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, notes that the Corps allotment would equal civil works' regular appropriations for all of fiscal 2013, based on the current funding rate. For contractors and engineering firms that pursue Corps projects, he says, "This is good news." Similarly, the Sandy bill's FTA funding exceeds the agency's total 2012 budget.
Additional construction and repair funds are likely to come from the House bill's $16 billion for Housing and Urban Development Dept. community-development grants and its $11.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Relief Fund. The HUD and FEMA aid can go for a variety of construction and non-construction uses. The bill does not specify how that money will be used, which will depend on decisions states and localities make.
The measure's last Capitol Hill hurdle is a Senate vote, which had not yet occurred by ENR press time. Jack Basso, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials director of program finance and management, says Sandy-battered states have "urgent" rebuilding needs. He adds, "I'm hopeful … the Senate will act expeditiously to move this [bill] along." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a Jan. 22 statement that Sandy-aid legislation was "vital" and listed it among his top priorities. But he did not specify whether the Senate would take up the House version or draft different legislation.
Cathy Connor, Parsons Brinckerhoff senior vice president, says there is a strong likelihood that the Senate will approve the House-passed bill, though its provisions and funding allocations differ from those in a Sandy funding bill the Senate had cleared in late December. That earlier bill died when the House failed to vote on it by the end of the 112th Congress.
New Jersey and New York House members were incensed when the chamber's GOP leadership did not bring up the Senate bill. The New Yorkers and New Jerseyans said leaders had promised a vote on Jan. 1. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) later mollified them somewhat: He agreed to a Jan. 5 vote on a bill providing $9.7 billion for the federal flood-insurance program and a Jan. 15 floor action on the $50 billion in additional funds. The flood funding bill passed the House and Senate and was enacted on Jan. 6.
If the Senate were to amend, even slightly, the new $50.5-billion House bill, the amended version would go back to the House for a new vote or go before a House-Senate conference committee to reconcile the two versions' differences. That would further postpone the release of reconstruction funds.
After the New Year's Day mess in the House, senators may desire to move swiftly. "They obviously want to get this done and out of the way," Connor says. "Nobody wants to delay final passage."