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Congress Faces Countdown to Funding Crisis Upon Return From Recess

When the Senate and House return July 7, lawmakers will immediately be in a fast countdown toward the July 31 expiration of the Highway Trust Fund. And congressional leaders will need to make much earlier decisions on whether to complete a long-term authorization during July.

Since the House is scheduled to be on its summer recess for all of August and the first week of September, this month is when lawmakers must decide both how long to authorize the trust fund and how to pay for it to avoid a disruption to the federal highway and transit programs.

A host of state officials, including governors and state department of transportation CEOs, have warned that just the uncertainty created by repeated temporary extensions has already frozen many planned construction projects across the country and disrupted long-term planning for more.

Actually getting to the expiration date without a new authorization and funding plan could lead to widespread shutdowns of highway projects, so state officials and many infrastructure advocacy groups have urged Congress to take strong action as early as possible during July to bolster the trust fund.

As earlier reported earlier, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced a proposed six-year, $275 billion reauthorization of the highway programs portion, which if passed into law would represent an increase in highway funding while adding new freight and infrastructure grant programs.

However, before that bill can move to the Senate floor, it needs two other authorizing committees to contribute the transit and safety portions and the Finance Committee to supply the revenue for it.

In the House, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has yet to unveil an authorizing bill, and would need the Ways and Means Committee to provide its funding.

While it is possible a breakthrough on the financing could be quickly followed by action in the authorizing panels to complete a bill, both full chambers would need to pass their versions and then negotiate any differences.

However, lawmakers have yet to signal they are near agreement on how to find the revenue needed for a long-term bill, and they would need to decide early in the month whether to opt instead for another short extension.

An extension could at least get state DOTs past the rest of this year's construction season, but would leave them facing a new round of uncertainty over what they could put out to bid beyond the next federal program deadline. Still, that course also faces challenges in Congress, as some lawmakers have said they will resist voting for another short-term bill when U.S. infrastructure needs require a long-term funding fix.

Source: AASHTO