Vote as Early as Today on 6-Month Transportation Extension

by By Alex Goldmark | Sep 13, 2011
Congressional leaders have reached a tentative agreement to extend current transportation funding levels six months. The plan combines the existing surface transportation funding provisions, known as SAFETEA-LU, with Federal Aviation Administration authorization, which would be extended for four months. Republican leaders had been talking about wanting to remove the Transportation Enhancements provision in SAFTEA-LU, which go primarily to bike and walking provisions. The Transportation Enhancements program requires states to direct money to, among other areas, pedestrian and cycling projects.

Congressional leaders have reached a tentative agreement to extend current transportation funding levels six months. The plan combines the existing surface transportation funding provisions, known as SAFETEA-LU, with Federal Aviation Administration authorization, which would be extended for four months. If passed this week as expected, the deal averts a repeat of the nasty partisan fight over funding levels and labor rights that partially shuttered the FAA last month. It also avoids deep cuts to transportation and infrastructure spending Republicans have been calling for.

House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica (R-Fla.) had been advocating for a transportation department re-authorization bill that cuts overall spending levels by 30 percent.  By comparison, this “clean” extension agreement, with no amendments or funding changes, means that transportation cuts will be avoided or at least postponed until the Presidential election year. Republican leadership, it seems, has decided to back away from a position that could potentially lead to another shutdown of the FAA or even other agencies within the Department of Transportation. A Mica spokesman tells Transportation Nation he supports this new agreement and expects it to be on the House floor by Tuesday.

The FAA funding fight last month left 4,000 government workers furloughed for two weeks, and cost the federal government $30 million a day in lost taxes. It also seems to have primed politicians for compromise. Even though the core issues of that standoff remain unsettled — funding levels for rural airports, and a labor provision making it easier for airline and railroad workers to organize — this extension agreement pushes off any agreement until next year.

Transportation advocates are pleased with that idea. James Coreless, director of Transportation for America said, “The six-month timeline allows the relevant House and Senate Committees an opportunity to continue crafting a long-term authorization that protects and creates jobs, while investing in the travel options Americans want with the accountability they deserve. We look forward to working with Congress to get a new bill done next year.”

Republican leaders had been talking about wanting to remove the Transportation Enhancements provision in SAFTEA-LU, which go primarily to bike and walking provisions. The Transportation Enhancements program requires states to direct money to, among other areas, pedestrian and cycling projects.

By extending both bills at once, Congress is forcing itself to take up the bill this week, before the temporary FAA extension expires again on the 17th.