Transportation conferees return to grapple with highway funding issues

| 9/7/2004

Reauthorization of the federal highway and transit programs is one of a slate of issues members of Congress will face when they return from recess Tuesday, Sept. 6. However, members are expected to focus on their campaigns for re-election.

Nevertheless, only 10 legislative days are scheduled before the authorization for the federal-aid highway program expires Sept. 24. Shortly before recessing, the House and Senate passed a fourth short-term extension of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, extending safety and transit programs until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, but extending the highway program only until Sept. 24.

The shorter extension for the highway program was to allow conferees time to determine how to allocate some $1.8 billion in highway obligation authority that has yet to be distributed.

The larger problem facing conferees is to agree on the overall funding level for a multiyear reauthorization. The last offer would establish a six-year level of $299 billion in contract authority and $284 billion in guaranteed funding. It would include a rescission of $15 billion in existing, unused contract authority from prior bills.

The Senate conference leaders had hoped for a bill containing $301 billion in contract authority and $290 billion in guaranteed spending, including a $12 billion rescission of prior contract authority.