Lawmakers appear to be moving toward another short-term extension of the federal program that supports state highway and transit projects only 10 months after they enacted the last one.
And they’re no closer than they were last year to reaching consensus on a longer-term measure that would last five or six years, something the states need to plan their projects.
The current authorization for the highway trust fund expires on May 31. Congress will not be in session next week because of the Memorial Day holiday. If lawmakers don’t act this week, payments to states for their transportation projects will simply cease.
On average, states rely on federal dollars for half their transportation needs.
Despite repeated warnings from state transportation officials, business groups and infrastructure builders that the short-term approach to managing state transportation projects is not sustainable, House and Senate leaders are poised to patch it again.
It’s now been a decade since Congress passed a transportation bill that lasted more than two years. Most extensions have lasted from a few weeks to several months.
Last week, Reps. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania _ respectively, the Republican chairmen of the House Ways and Means and Transportation committees _ introduced a bill to extend the highway program until July 31.
In the Senate, Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Tom Carper of Delaware, both Democrats, have done the same.
Two more key Senate players, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma _ respectively, the Republican chairmen of the Senate Finance and Environment and Public Works committees _ have proposed an $11 billion patch that would last through December.
Ryan and Shuster said they preferred an extension through the end of the year but have had difficulty finding ways to offset the cost.
“It was our preference to move an extension through the end of the year,” they said in a statement last week, “but we will need more time to reach a bipartisan agreement on offsets.”
Carper, who warned last summer that lawmakers would find themselves in the same bind 10 months later, renewed his push for a long-term solution.
“It’s clear to me that yet another long extension that patches the trust fund with an assortment of budget gimmicks only guarantees that we’ll push this issue right to the back burner,” he said in a statement, “as we’ve done over and over again.”
This post has been updated to correct the duration of the current highway fund patch.