Friday, March 19, 2010

One Extension Done, Others Still in Play

Earlier this week, Pres. Obama signed HR 2847, the "HIRE Act," into law. This legislation extends SAFETEA-LU highway and transit authorizations through December 31, 2010, making sure that about $20 billion is made available to cover existing appropriations (and anticipated appropriations for the first quarter of FY 2011). It also continues the increased federal share of Medicaid costs that were first established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Back payment to US DOT employees affected by last month's short-term furlough during the lapse in authorizations remain up in the air. The House has passed a couple of measures to address this question, but Senate action has not yet occurred. The House attached the latest such back pay provision to HR 4851, the "Continuing Extensions Act," which otherwise addresses lapsing unemployment, COBRA and other provisions.

Returning to the HIRE Act, there was a bit of a conniption over how to treat the FHWA accounts that had been used to fund some high-dollar highway projects under SAFETEA-LU. Basically, the question was whether these accounts still need extension, even after those Congressionally designated projects had been funded. But in the urgent need to do something, that extension occurred.... Now, Congress is trying to set things straight, having attached a bit of correcting language to another bill, HR 4853, the FAA Extension Act (yes, the federal aviation program also has expired and needs reauthorization), which it passed and sent on to the Senate this week.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Jobs" bills -- a playcard

Turn to just about any news media this month, and you'll see or hear something about job creation legislation being passed or debated in Congress. There are a number of bills in play, all of which have something or another to do with transportation and the programs that depend upon transportation. Here's the mid-March rundown:

HR 2847, Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act

This bill has experienced a long and convulsive path through the Capitol. In its current form, House and Senate are using it as one of their job creation measures. As far as providers or stakeholders of public transportation are concerned, the leading feature of this bill is that it calls for extending current SAFETEA-LU authorizations through December 31, 2010. An earlier House-passed version of this bill included additional money, on top of SAFETEA-LU, for transit, as well as supplemental grants for job training, and an extension of the increased federal share of Medicaid costs, but all those provisions - other than the SAFETEA-LU extension - seem to have been jettisoned by the bills passed by the Senate on February 24, and by the House on March 4. At this point, the House and Senate legislation is not too divergent; it's possible that they can reach agreement on this bill (which mainly has $150 billion or so in tax provisions that are hoped to stimulate employment) and send it to President Obama for signature.

HR 4213, Tax Extenders Act of 2009

Every year, there are a number of provisions and features in the Internal Revenue Code that expire unless extended. This becomes a convenient, "must-pass" vehicle for other morsels of legislation. This year's Tax Extenders bill passed the House in December as a "clean" bill (ie, just extending expiring tax stuff, with nothing else attached). This week - on March 10 - the Senate passed its version of an extenders bill that included $140 billion of other stuff, including provisions that would extend the increased federal share of Medicaid (enacted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) for another year.

HR 4691, Temporary Extension Act of 2010

As previously reported here and elsewhere, the main transportation feature of this bill was the short-term extension of SAFETEA-LU authorizations through March 28, 2010.

HR 4812, Local Jobs for America Act

This bill was just introduced yesterday by Congressman George Miller (D-Calif), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. The main feature, as touted by Congressman Miller's press release, is the authorization of $100 billion to help state governments ($25 billion) and local governments ($75 billion) carry out infrastructure projects, keep education systems open, pay salaries of firefighters and other essential personnel, et al. Although it speaks directly to the expressed needs of state and local governments, they shouldn't run out and spend that money right away; it's far too soon to say whether this bill, or its provisions, will advance through the legislative process.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

DOT: Back in Business, at least for a few weeks

Late last night (March 2), President Obama signed the "Temporary Extension Act of 2010" into law. Among other things, this legislation extends the SAFETEA-LU highway and transit authorizations to a new deadline of March 28, 2010.

As was widely reported among the DC news media, and in the transportation press, there was a bit of an issue, in that the Senate did not pass this extension bill before the February 28 expiration of the last SAFETEA-LU extension. As a result, there were a couple of days in which many DOT employees were on a furlough, work on some federally involved transportation projects was suspended, and there was a lot of blogging and finger-pointing about this delay.

But once TEA-2010 was signed into law, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood was on hand at his agency's headquarters, welcoming the employees back to work.

Note, though, that this latest transportation extension is only for a few more weeks. It's too soon to tell what may happen later this month. In the meantime, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, convened a hearing today (Mar. 3) at which she vowed to have her committee do its part on a SAFETEA-LU renewal -- not another extension -- before the year is up.