Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes in Funding

(from the January 2010 Editor's note in AsphaltPro Magazine)

Please allow me to plagiarize for just a moment from the fabulous David Bowie.

(Turn and face the strain)
Oh, look out you rock 'n rollers

My digression into 1970’s glam rock can be explained by the changes around us. Nearly everyone you talk to is making resolutions about turning over a new leaf. It’s an exciting time for renewal and new starts.

The big change on everyone’s mind in our industry is the funding Congress will bless us with through a set of bills passed in mid-December. The first—House Joint Resolution 64, which extends Defense Department appropriations and surface transportation authorization for about a week to keep projects and the economy from grinding to a sudden and frightening halt—will be a faded memory by the time this issue mails.

HR 3326 is up next. It’s a good stop-gap measure that keeps projects running and workers employed while Congress works toward something more permanent for jobs and the economy. This is the Defense appropriations bill and it extends the surface transportation authorization until Feb. 28.

By that time, HR 2847 should have kicked in. That’s the jobs bill and it’s set until Sept. 30. I’m convinced industry will remain vigilant in lobbying Congress to put a more permanent, reliably-funded transportation plan in place before the September deadline rolls around.

The jobs bill—HR 2847—is the one to keep track of. AASHTO reports that the jobs bill will give industry $53.3 billion for use in fiscal year 2010 for SAFETEA-LU programs in the areas of highways ($41.546 billion), highway safety ($729 million), motor carrier safety ($550 million) and mass transit ($10.508 billion). It will also help out the Highway Trust Fund by 1) putting $19.5 billion into the fund ($14.7 for the highway account and $4.8 for the mass transit account) and 2) changing federal law to allow the fund to collect interest in the future. According to AASHTO, the Transportation & Infrastructure committee says that gain of interest could mean a gain of between $500 million and $1 billion per year. That seems like a pretty big gap in projections, but this is all conjecture right now based on fuel taxes. Remember that when fuel prices rise consumers curb their driving habits. And that takes me back to the idea of lobbying for a more permanent, reliably-funded transportation plan.

There’s more money in HR 2847 earmarked for extra job creation. Also, an important note that AASHTO pointed out about this bill is a provision for states: the bill waives state matching requirements for federal surface transportation grants for the remainder of FY2009. That means states having a tough time making the budget have a bit of grace coming.

Plenty of good changes keep us on our toes this winter season. It’s not just Congress that’s got our industry’s economic future in mind. Equipment manufacturers are pitching new technology at the upcoming World of Asphalt. This publication is making new strides with editorial content and a new Web site to bring not just equipment and technology changes to you, but also to bring new practices and safer work methods to you.

Not all change is scary. We welcome you to write to us here at AsphaltPro and let us know what changes are taking place in your neck of the woods. Let us know how we can help you adapt to those changes. Contact the editor.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender, Editor

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