‘Jobs Bill’ may stem transport funding debacles

Buried within the job creation measure, an extension of the US transportation spending authority through to 31 December could help avoid further standoffs over short-term extensions, which forced the Department of Transportation to temporarily furlough 2,000 workers last week.

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill that could provide an additional $20 billion for road and bridge repair and extend the US’s transportation spending authority through to the end of the year.

Jobs Bill: channeling
more money for infra

The so-called ‘Jobs Bill’, aimed at stamping down the US’s 9.7 percent unemployment rate, must now be reconciled with a Senate version of the same measure, which was passed last week. The bill intends to do that by providing more money for infrastructure spending and tax incentives for hiring.

The bill provides for an extension of the Build America Bonds programme, a new type of taxable municipal debt that was set to expire in December 2010. Due to its popularity, though – $64 billion of Build America Bonds were issued last year by municipalities and state governments across the US to finance infrastructure projects – President Barack Obama proposed that the government permit their issuance beyond 2010.

The bill's enactment into law could clear-up a cloud of uncertainty over the US’s transportation spending. The transportation spending authority expired under an old bill at the end of September 2009 and has had to rely on short-term extensions every few months in the absence of legislative action on a longer-term transportation bill being crafted by Democrat Jim Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

If the Senate agrees to the House version of the ‘Jobs Bill’, transportation spending would be authorised through to 31 December, eradicating the need for shorter, month-by-month extensions.

The danger of relying on such extensions was shown last week when Republican Senator Jim Bunning blocked a budget resolution to extend transportation and other funding for another 30 days. The move forced the Department of Transportation to temporarily furlough 2,000 workers last Monday and left the Department unable to make payments to states for their federally-funded highway projects.

The furlough ended last Wednesday morning, after the Senate passed an extension that restores the government’s transportation spending authority through to 26 March. If the Senate agrees to the House version of the ‘Jobs Bill’, that authority could be extended through to the end of this year.

The longer-term extension could give a boost to Oberstar’s plan for a new six-year, $500 billion transportation spending bill that would funnel more money toward high-speed rail, highway construction and create an infrastructure bank for funding big infrastructure projects.

Raymond LaHood, the US Secretary of Transportation, has previously expressed support for Oberstar’s measure but urged a shorter extension of the current transportation bill in order to give Congress more time to come up with a financing plan for it.