The House and Senate voted Dec. 7 to extend fiscal 2017 appropriations levels another two week to Dec. 22, avoiding a potential shutdown but preventing federal programs including those for highway projects tap into higher authorized levels for the fiscal 2018 that began Oct. 1.
The House approved the “continuing resolution” in a 235-193 vote, and the Senate followed by approving the measure 81-14. The votes came one day before a temporary funding measure was due to expire, and agencies were reportedly reviewing their shutdown plans in case Congress allowed funding to lapse.
The extension gives lawmakers from both parties more time to try to negotiate a full-year spending bill that would cover all federal agencies. If they do not succeed by then, members could vote for yet another extension that could push 2017 funding levels into January.
The longer they delay finalizing a full-year budget bill, the longer that state departments of transportation will be unable to utilize about $1 billion in additional highway funding they are scheduled to receive in this fiscal year.
Some state DOTs try to finalize their spring project bid programs during the autumn and early winter, so the congressional delays in passing a full-year spending measure may also delay some road construction, technology and safety projects that could help stimulate economic activity and improve mobility and safety for the traveling public.
Congress in 2015 passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which fully funded highway and transit program increases through the Highway Trust Fund through 2020. However, lawmakers must also approve the annual appropriations bills for those scheduled, paid-for increases to take effect.
A breakdown of the FAST Act’s funding levels – in a staff analysis from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – shows that highway program spending was scheduled to increase 2.2 percent starting Oct. 1 to $45.183 billion.
Most of that funding would be disbursed to states, federal land agencies and tribal government according to an established formula.
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