Thursday, March 3, 2011

No need to hold your least not this week

Many people in the nation's public transit community were becoming increasingly worried this past week, when speculation increased by the minute that there would be a lapse in federal appropriations, and at the same time, the legislative authority for highway and transit programs under SAFETEA-LU also would lapse. With regard to federal spending, every government agency was readying its "contingency plans," and preparing the messages to communicate to grantees and customers. Within the US Department of Transportation (DOT), extra effort was being paid to what could or could not be done if there were to be a lapse in authorizations.

However, the cause for concern has passed, if only for the moment.

A short-term continuing resolution has been signed into law that keeps federal funds on tap for two more weeks, through March 18, 2011. As was widely reported in the news media, this stopgap measure included several billion dollars of budget cuts, but none of those cuts, not even those identified within the DOT, appear likely to have any effect on transit programs or grantees. In general, the spending cuts under this continuing resolution represent programs that were carried over from last year's appropriations, but which neither President Obama nor Congress had any intention of funding this year in the first place.

Today, President Obama is expected to sign another bill into law: the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011. This bill basically extends SAFETEA-LU through the end of the current fiscal year. This takes a lot of the pressure off both Congress and the DOT, in the short term, but pressures to renew our nation's federal highway and transit programs remain very real and very urgent.

While worries over SAEFTEA-LU authorizations may have eased for now, the issue of federal appropriations continues to loom large. Expect more last-minute legislative drama in two weeks' time.

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