When Congress reconvenes Jan. 20, there will be 24 legislative
days to complete work on the reauthorization of federal highway, highway safety
and transit programs before a temporary measure expires Feb. 29.
With the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century expiring
Sept. 30, 2003, Congress enacted a five-month extension. During that time,
highway and safety reauthorization bills were unveiled by both House and Senate
committees, although details remained to be worked out.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in November
marked up a $255 billion highway reauthorization bill (S. 1072) – the Safe,
Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003. However,
funding has not yet been identified, nor has a state-by-state funding
distribution been disclosed.
Committee Chairman Sen.
James Inhofe, R-OK, said he hoped the
Senate would consider the legislation "as its first order of
business," so that a bill can be sent to President George W. Bush as
quickly as possible, according to press accounts.
Inhofe said he had received assurance from Senate Majority Leader
Bill Frist, R-TN, that the bill would be brought before the full Senate in
House financing plan pending too
Meanwhile, The Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users,
proposed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in November,
calls for a six-year $375 billion reauthorization.
Bill sponsors, including Chairman Don Young, R-AK, emphasized the
importance of the bill to the nation's economic recovery, saying it is targeted
to create 1.7 million jobs and sustain another 1.8 million through 2009.
In TEA-LU, highway funding would go from $182 billion under the
current authorization, to $298 billion, and transit would increase from $41
billion to $69.2 billion.
The bill does not specify how the funds will be raised to pay for
the transportation investments. However, it assumes a transfer of revenue from
the 2.5-cent tax on ethanol from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund,
and the repeal of the 5.2-cent tax exemption for fuel blends including ethanol.
The committee has also strongly supported enactment of a
retroactive indexing of the motor fuel tax to provide needed revenue.
Chairman Young indicated he hoped
to mark up the bill in February and to complete floor action by March 15.