A $1.1-trillion spending package, which is headed to the White House for President Obama's expected signature, would fund most federal agencies through the rest of fiscal year 2015 and hold key construction programs at or near their 2014 levels. A major exception is military construction, which would suffer a deep cut.
The huge bill, which the Senate approved 56-40 on Dec. 13 during an unusual late-night Saturday session, is mostly an omnibus measure to keep all agencies operating, including their construction programs, through next Sept. 30—except the Dept. of Homeland Security.
DHS will run at fiscal 2014 spending levels under a continuing resolution, or CR, through Feb. 27. The CR-plus-omnibus spending package has been dubbed the “CRomnibus.”
The Senate's approval is the final congressional action on the measure. The House passed it late on Dec. 11 on a tight 219-206 vote. Obama is expected to sign it soon.
An earlier appropriations measure lapsed at midnight on Dec. 11, so while Congress was haggling over the CRomnibus, it passed two short stopgaps to avert a government shutdown.
President Obama signed the two-day measure early on Dec. 12 and a further four-day extension on Dec. 13. That second bill keeps federal agencies open through Dec. 17.
Along with the CRomnibus's $1.1 trillion in appropriations, it contains an amendment that puts in place substantial changes in policies for multi-employer pension plans, which cover more than 3 million unionized construction workers, retires and beneficiaries (see related ENR.com story).
Among important construction accounts, the new bill freezes the federal highway obligation limit at $40.3 billion, the same as its 2014 mark. It is also the 2015 level set in the current highway-transit authorization law, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.
Speaking of the new bill’s highway figure, Pete Ruane, American Road & Transportation Builders Association president and CEO, says, “No one can be satisfied with a static program.”
He adds, “On the other hand, given what’s going on with the budget overall, I think one has to be satisfied with the fact that there were no big cuts, as there have been several times over the past half-dozen years.”
Stephen Sandherr, Associated General Contractors of America CEO, agrees. “At least we’re dealing with a baseline … that’s not diminished,” he says.
Ruane also says ARTBA is convinced the new bill’s steady funding is a sign that Congress is ready to tackle the larger issue of surface transportation funding by mid-May 2015.
That task includes filling a $16-billion short-term “hole” in the Highway Trust Fund that would prevent a severe cut in the highway and transit programs.
In other transportation accounts, the CRomnibus keeps Federal Aviation Administration airport improvement grants at $3.35 billion, the same as 2014's level.
However, it slices the popular TIGER grant program by 17%, to $500 million.
Negotiators pared the Army Corps of Engineers' civil-works program by less than 1%, to $5.45 billion. “That’s a strong number,” says John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLC.
Doyle, a former senior Army civil-works official, notes that the proposed 2015 level nearly matches an unexpectedly high FY14 civil-works total and comes in the context of tight limits on overall FY15 domestic discretionary funding.
Still, lawmakers sent a message to the Corps by cutting off FY15 money to implement new federal water-resources "principles and guidelines," which the White House issued in 2013, for evaluating water-resources projects. The funding cutoff effectively leaves the 1983 version of the principles and guidelines in place.
American Association of Port Authorities President Kurt Nagle observed that the CRomnibus provides $1.1 billion for operations and maintenance dredging funded by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, a 10% gain over 2014's appropriations.
Among other water programs, Environmental Protection Agency aid to clean-water state revolving funds (SRFs), which help finance wastewater treatment projects, would stay steady with the 2014 level, at $1.45 billion.
EPA drinking-water SRFs similarly are frozen at last year’s $907 million.
"I think these numbers are solid," Adam Krantz, National Association of Clean Water Agencies managing director for government and public affairs, said via email. "And we will continue … to fight for increased spending levels as budgets get debated going forward."
The General Services Administration’s account funding new public-buildings construction got a 1% increase, to $510 million.
The total includes $216.8 million to continue work on a new border station at San Ysidro, Calif., and $144 million for the Dept. of Homeland Security's multi-building consolidation project in Washington, D.C.
GSA’s repairs and alterations program was sliced 32%, to $818 million.