President Obama has signed a jobs measure that will extend the federal highway and transit programs through Dec. 31, add billions of dollars to the Highway Trust Fund and restore highway funding to its 2009 level.
Obama signed the legislation--the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act--on March 18 in a Rose Garden ceremony. Just before signing the bill, the President said that the legislation "will encourage businesses to hire and help put Americans back to work."
He also said that the measure "will maintain crucial investments in our roads and our bridges as we head into the spring and summer months, when construction jobs are picking up."
Although Obama did not dwell on the transportation provisions in his comments, those elements are perhaps the most important items for construction in the $17.6-billion jobs package, which received final congressional approval one day earlier.
Specifically, the new law will continue surface-transportation programs through Dec. 31 and also transfer $19.5 billion to the Highway Trust Fund from the general fund, more than enough to avert a $9-billion shortfall expected to appear in the trust fund this summer.
The $19.5-billion trust fund infusion isn't counted in the measure's $17.6-billion cost estimate, because the highway aid provision is categorized as a transfer, not an increase, in spending.
The HIRE Act also restores highway obligations to their 2009 levels, by canceling previous obligation-authority rescissions. Since Oct. 1, those cuts had reduced total federal road obligations by about $1 billion a month, compared with 2009 amounts.
Construction also should benefit from the jobs package's expansion of the federally subsidized Build America Bonds program.
In addition, the measure gives companies an exemption from paying Social Security payroll taxes for hiring unemployed people. That exemption extends through Dec. 31.