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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Surface Transportation Reauthorization in the 112th Congress: Summary and Sources

Marc Levinson, Coordinator
Section Research Manager

Legislation to reauthorize federal surface transportation programs is under consideration in both houses of Congress.1 The previous transportation authorization, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA, P.L. 109-59), enacted in 2005, expired on September 30, 2009. Since that time, surface transportation programs and activities have been operated under a series of extensions. The most recent of these, P.L. 112-30, expires on March 31, 2012.

The main obstacle to enactment of a new multi-year bill during the past two years has been the disparity between projected spending and the much lower projections of the revenue flows to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Taxes on gasoline and diesel provide approximately 90% of the revenues for the HTF, which historically has funded the entire highway program and roughly 80% of the mass transit program. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has projected that the unexpended balance of the highway account of the HTF will reach zero during FY2013 and that the balance in the Mass Transit Account will reach zero in FY2014 (see Appendix Figure A-1).

Surface transportation reauthorization is one of the more legislatively complex issues before Congress, because it addresses matters under the jurisdictions of many committees. Portions of the pending reauthorization bills, under various bill numbers, were marked up in seven different committees (see Table 1) before consolidation under a single bill number in each house.

The Senate reauthorization bill, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (S. 1813; MAP-21), would authorize surface transportation programs for two years, through FY2013. Fully funding the bill would require roughly $10 billion in revenues or offsets beyond anticipated HTF revenues.2 On March 1, 2012, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced S.Amdt. 1761 to S. 1813, and references in this report to MAP-21 are to S. 1813 as amended by S.Amdt. 1761. The House bill, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (H.R. 7), links the usual surface transportation reauthorization components with provisions designed to increase oil and gas production, the revenues from which would be provided for highway infrastructure. H.R. 7, counting the already appropriated FY2012, is a five-year bill providing for a total authorization of roughly $260 billion.3 The bills differ significantly in programmatic content and treatment of the HTF. Both are free of program earmarking.

Date of Report: March 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R42350
Price: $29.95

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