As congressional appropriators move ahead on fiscal year 2014 spending bills, some major construction programs, such as highways, are faring reasonably well given the tight budget environment, but others could face cuts.

Framing the appropriations action is a wide gap between House and Senate ceilings on overall FY 14 discretionary spending. The Senate cap is $1.058 trillion; the House's is $967 billion. In light of that spread, House appropriators have tended to be tougher on construction and other programs than their Senate counterparts.

As of July 9, the House was nearing passage of the third of 12 FY 14 appropriations bills, each of which funds one or more agencies; the Senate had approved no bills. The House Appropriations Committee had cleared three other bills; the Senate panel approved four.

With no broad House-Senate fiscal compromise in sight and White House veto threats hanging over House bills that stick to the $967-billion cap, industry officials say a stopgap continuing resolution is likely by Oct. 1, when FY 14 starts. An omnibus package could follow, perhaps extending through next Sept. 30.

It will be months before final 2014 construction spending levels become clear, but the early numbers provide strong hints. For example, in their versions of the bill funding the Dept. of Transportation, House and Senate appropriators included the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century's $40.3-billion highway obligation limit, up 1% from 2013. Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors highway and transportation division, says, "Transportation is able to hold its own ... and that's, frankly, a result of MAP-21."

But House and Senate lawmakers are far apart on DOT TIGER grants, which help fund a variety of projects. The House panel zeroed out TIGER 2014 funds and rescinded $237 million in not-yet-obligated 2013 TIGER money.

Senate appropriators allocated $550 million to TIGER, up 15% from 2013. The panel included $500 million for "bridges in critical corridors," a response from transportation subcommittee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to the May 23 Skagit River Bridge collapse in her state. Deery expects the final 2014 measure to have TIGER and bridge funds, though maybe below the Senate committee bill's levels.

For the Corps of Engineers civil-works program, the House committee called for $4.68 billion and the Senate panel $5.27 billion. That compares with 2013's $4.7 billion, excluding Sandy-related aid. FY 14 Corps operation and maintenance figures are especially promising (see table). John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, says, "I think if you're a Corps supporter, you should feel pretty good about the numbers that are in both bills."

How House, Senate FY14 Construction Spending Plans Stack Up
Program FY13 Post-Sequester $ mil. FY 14 House Committee $ mil. FY14 Senate Committee $ mil.
Highway obligation limit 39,699* 40,256 40,256
FTA formula grants’ obligation limit 8,461* 8,595 8,595
FTA capital investment grants 1,855 1,816 1,943
FAA Airport Improvement Program grants 3,343* 3,350 3,350
DOT TIGER grants 478 -237** 550
Corps construction 1,587 1,343 1,542
Corps operation and maintenance 2,286 2,682 2,700
Corps flood control/Miss. River, tributaries 239 249 300
DOE defense environmental cleanup 4,641 4,750 5,147
HUD Community Development Block Grants 2,801 1,637 3,150
*programs exempt from sequester. **House committee recommended zero for TIGER FY14 funds, also rescinded $237 million in FY13 unobligated funds. Sources: House, Senate Appropriations Committees, Office of Management and Budget, ENR