Why Might a SAFETEA-LU Extension Be Delayed?

(Image: didbygraham, flickr)

The federal highway/transit bill expires at midnight September 30.  If political differences prevent result in the legislation expiring (presumably for only a short period of time), thousands of private sector construction workers could be furloughed as highway and transit projects across the country are shut down.

Fortunately, the White House and Congressional leadership in both parties support extending the legislation, giving Congress more time to work out a final bill.   See “Renew SAFETEA-LU, Urges President.”

Stakeholders are optimistic but nervous because there are a number of reasons an extension could be delayed:

  • There are only 11 scheduled legislative work days in September, and transportation legislation is only one of several important issues Congress needs to address during the month. Congress is scheduled for another state/district work period during the last week of the month, although that could be delayed if Congress so decides.
  • “Clean extensions” are becoming more difficult to enact.  “Must-pass” extensions are easy targets for members who are antsy to enact spending cuts or policy changes, and are frustrated with the few legislative vehicles that provide the opportunity.  The most recent example is the aviation bill.  Another example is the 2011 budget bill debate earlier this year, during which some Representatives insisted on immediate spending cuts and policy changes in exchange for supporting a temporary spending bill.
  • Federal transportation taxes. The federal government’s authority to levy and collect most transportation taxes expires on October 1. A disagreement about continuing the taxes, or adjusting the level of taxes and fees, could delay an extension.  Some leading anti-tax activists have decided to postpone their opposition to the taxes.
  • Bicycle-pedestrian funding.  House Republicans want to make the small amount of federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects optional instead of required.  It’s not clear yet where the Senate stands on the issue, but it is generally more supportive of the bike-ped program.  If Republicans decide they want this policy change now instead of later in a longer term bill the extension could be delayed.
  • Length of extension.  Senate transportation leaders are pursuing a four-month extension.  House Transportation Chair John Mica has not indicated a preference; however there are rumors that a two–month extension is preferred.