There’s at least one bit of common ground on surface-transportation legislation: Everyone wants to make it easier to finance local infrastructure projects.
The transportation bill that the Senate passed last week on a 74-22 vote would make more federal financing available to state and local governments for infrastructure projects, a provision that has fans among both Democrats and Republicans.
“We’re all for that,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla. “We have a similar provision … that would be an easily conference-able item” once the House passes its own transportation bill.
The Senate provision would increase the ceiling on infrastructure projects’ federal financing (such as secured loans, loan guarantees, and lines of credit) from 33 percent to 49 percent, and boost the loan limit to $1 billion annually. The change would result in approximately $10 billion annually in loans, supporters say.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one of the provision’s major proponents, is throwing his weight behind the Senate bill, which would authorize highway funding for two years with $109 billion. “The Senate version at least makes a down payment on what we should be doing on a bipartisan basis to repair our roads and our highways, our bridges, public transit and, importantly, to put people to work,” he said.
Congress, however, is no closer to agreeing on how to reauthorize the highway bill. Current funding expires on March 31. House leaders plan to push a three-month extension next week to buy time to craft a five-year bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on Tuesday that he is “not inclined” to support a short-term extension because he wants the House to pass the Senate bill, which would enable President Obama to sign it immediately.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on Wednesday that the lower chamber will not consider the Senate bill. With the deadline looming, “we feel it best not to allow for any disruption of funding, to go ahead and pass the three-month extension [and] see whether we can come together on a much longer-term bill,” he said.
Cantor all but dared Reid to stop a short-term fix.
“I’m sure that Majority Leader Reid does not want to cause any disruption of the flow of transportation dollars to the states or to federal programs,” he said.
Caught in the middle of this fight is the financing provision that everybody likes.
“There are 12 projects that we could accelerate from the 30-year period of time it would take to build … to as little as 10 years,” Villaraigosa said.
State and local governments would also be able to line up financing for multiple related projects together under the provision, making federal assistance more predictable. The measure has the support of more than 100 mayors, the AFL-CIO, and nearly 50 chambers of commerce, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Villaraigosa said.
Fawn Johnson and Billy House contributed
This article appears in the March 22, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.