No more multi-year highway bills?

By |  May 21, 2012

In his Innovation NewsBriefs e-newsletter, public policy consultant Ken Orski suggests the days of multi-year transportation bills may be over. “Long term authorizations have been a longstanding feature of the federal-aid transportation program,” Orski says. “They have been justified by the need for contract authority, i.e. ability for state DOTs to make binding financial commitments for major multi-year projects in advance of annual appropriations. But there is a growing sense among the lawmakers on Capitol Hill,” Orski continues, “that Congress may be forced to abandon the practice of multi-year reauthorizations.” He says the current fiscal and political environment makes it almost impossible to raise hundreds of billions of dollars in a single legislative package.

Orski points to an unfunded shortfall in the highway trust fund: “At current levels of expenditure, a five-year authorization would require approximately $260 billion,” he says. “Highway trust fund revenue and interest over the same time frame is projected to generate $175 billion, leaving an unfunded shortfall of approximately $85 billion. For a six-year bill, the unfunded shortfall would reach $100 billion. Where is that money to come from?

Hence, short-term bills (annual or bi-annual), requiring only relatively modest amounts in offsets or general fund supplements may become instead the accepted practice,” Orski concludes. He says that given the Senate barely came up with enough funds for a two-year bill, and the House has no plausible funding for its five-year bill “suggests that the days of multi-year transportation authorizations may indeed be over.”

About the Author:

Darren Constantino is an editor of Pit & Quarry magazine. He can be reached at dconstantino@northcoastmedia.net.

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