Senate committee approves 18-month SAFETEA-LU extension

Kerry Clines

July 27, 2009

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works approved an 18-month extension of SAFETEA-LU on July 15 by a vote of 18-1. The bill authorizes only highway and bridge spending and must be joined with extensions from the Senate Commerce committee, which has jurisdiction over safety and freight provisions, and the Banking committee, which controls public transportation legislation.

According to a news release by the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, the Surface Transportation Extension Act runs through March 2011 and would authorize about $41 billion in FY 2010 and $20.5 billion for the first half of FY 2011, maintaining the current fiscal year’s spending pace, excluding the stimulus package.

On July 20, Senate Finance committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) offered a plan to provide nearly $27 billion to shore up the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and fund the highway and transit programs through the 18-month extension approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. 

The proposal would reimburse $14.7 billion to the HTF and $4.8 billion to the mass transit program based on interest lost since the trust fund’s ability to earn interest on its balance was eliminated in 1998.  Baucus also proposes replenishing another $7.3 billion to the trust fund for emergency spending paid out between 1998 and 2004.  The entire amount would be paid from the General Fund into the HTF. 

The administration recommended the 18-month extension of the surface transportation law at a cost of $20 billion — $18 billion for highways and $2 billion for transit — to give lawmakers until after the 2010 midterm elections to reach agreement on a comprehensive reauthorization.

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