Friday, May 7, 2010

Fund This

(from the March 2010 Editor's Note in AsphaltPro Magazine)

The Colorado Department of Transportation announced bid deferrals two weeks in a row (as we went to press). The Missouri DOT announced “indefinite” bid delays Feb. 26. An uncertain senator from Kentucky, whom we won’t name or lambaste here, held up flawed but necessary funding extensions Feb. 28. Liquid asphalt prices in most states, as reported on page 48, drifted a little higher…again.

I could list more gloom and doom, but why? We’re all living it. The tireless Jay Hansen, vice president of government affairs for the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), Lanham, Md., provided a quick review of the “condition” of the Highway Trust Fund balance on page 30. It’s not pretty, but do you understand why? Hansen’s no-nonsense style spells it out plainly.

He explained in a side note—which didn’t fit on the page—that state agencies are impotent to move forward with projects that could put contractors to work thanks to funding instability. States have got to have an appropriations bill as well as an authorization bill enacted before they can build or repair federally funded highways. Here’s how it works.

“Before a state transportation department commits to fund a highway project it must be able to assign equal amounts of ‘contract authority’ from an authorization bill and ‘obligation authority’ from an appropriations bill. SAFETEA-LU (or an extension) is an authorization bill that provides states with a budget that can be committed for projects. The actual financing or cash for the projects is determined by Congress through the annual appropriations process. Finally, the Highway Trust Fund Highway Account is the source of funds provided in the appropriations bill.”

The next bill to hold industry’s attention is H.R. 2847. A 10-month band-aid doesn’t let states perform long-term planning, but at least clears the stage for immediate, 2010 construction season projects. As of a late press time, the House had just passed the bill and sent it back to the Senate. What industry members need to do is get on the phone to their representatives to encourage them to get H.R. 2847 in place. These cute little 30-day extensions might keep current work current, but they don’t let states make the necessary plans for real business, for a safe summer or autumn 2010.

A monthly publication like AsphaltPro is great for the how-to information and project stories we provide, but the lead time for monthly deadlines doesn’t let us bring up-to-the-minute updates on legislative action to you. For that, we developed this blog. I encourage you to check out the post titled “Funding Wars” for updates and links to funding information. Don’t forget your opportunity to influence legislation.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender, Editor

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