International Dredging Review
EDITORIAL – March/April 2012 issue
We in the dredging industry are on the ground as far as infrastructure funding goes. Because our job is to keep the navigable waterways at depth, we see what happens when maintenance dredging is not funded. Because dredging operations provide a good portion of the aggregate used in road building, those operations are among the first to feel it when federal highway projects are not funded.
On March 29, the House of Representatives passed a bill to extend federal transportation funding for three months, a stopgap measure that caused widespread trepidation in the dredging and construction industries, because it allows just three months for the House Transportation Committee to come up with its own bill, carry on all necessary discussions, conference with the Senate and agree on a final bill, and then hope both houses vote on and pass the conference bill.
Justin Harclerode, communications director for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, explained the differences that would have to be ironed out – the major one being the length of time covered by the bill. The Senate bill is a two-year bill, and the House committee wants a five-year bill. Other points, covered in both bills but with what appear to be not very great differences, are:
- funding mechanisms – besides the Highway Maintenance Trust Fund (HTF), the House bill would rely on additional funding from expansion of domestic energy production and federal pension reform, both of which have been approved by the House. The Senate bill lists a number of items, including transfer of $3 billion into highway fund from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund; transfer of gas guzzler taxes and duties on imported vehicles into the HTF, and appropriation of un-appropriated money from the general fund into the HMTF – $2.18 billion in 2012, $2.28 billion in 2013, and $510 million in 2014.
- consolidation of programs and giving the states more flexibility in how federal transportation funds are spent. Both the House and Senate bills include detailed provisions for reforming and consolidating the 120 programs now included in federal highway funding.
- Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund – the House committee adopted the Boustany amendment requiring money collected for this fund to be used exclusively for harbor and navigation channel maintenance. The same language is incorporated in the Senate bill, so presumably there would be no further discussion on this important amendment, and it would be included as it stands.
The existing funding expires on March 31, so the extension is good until the end of June, when states are beginning their spring and summer construction season, and 1.8 million construction jobs are depending on the legislation being passed by that time. Also at risk is $110 million a day in uncollected gas and diesel taxes if construction projects are interrupted.
Harclerode believes that the process of completing and voting on a House bill, conferencing with the Senate and eventually passing the bill in both houses is possible in the coming three months. He optimistically described how Congress accomplished the same thing this past February with a complex FAA authorization bill, which had gone through 23 short term extensions since 2007. Let’s hope he’s right.