Monday, September 28, 2009

Vanishing Highway Construction Funds

The last long term federal Highway Trust Fund reauthorization included an often overlooked provision designed to promote budget flexibility, requiring states to set aside a small portion of highway funds each year. Ignored by most states when the time came to pay for road construction projects, the chickens are now coming home to roost to the tune of $9 billion, or about a third of the amount added to state road construction budgets in the stimulus legislation. Unless Congress acts by Wednesday, to remedy the situation, state highway departments will lose the $9 billion, and in some states the disappearing cash will lead to construction project cancellations or curtailments of jobs already underway.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer is working on legislation to restore the $9 billion to the budget, in order to avoid an $800 million loss to the California highway department, $114 million to Colorado's road construction budget, $60 million to Nevada, and similar losses in other states. The jobs which would have to be cut from ongoing projects in Oklahoma alone could be up to 1,300 trades workers, according to Senator James Inhofe. It seems odd that such difficulties in an ongoing federal program which is as big a staple in America's construction industry economy as the federal Highway Trust Fund could be left to the last three days of the fiscal year for Congressional action.
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