Authorization

New reports out in recent weeks detail how the United States is falling behind other countries in infrastructure improvement, offer “taxpayer-friendly” solutions for the nation’s transportation challenges, explain how highway infrastructure spending is connected to the larger U.S. economy and examine tax provisions for financing infrastructure. Here’s a rundown.

Last week I blogged about a recent forum in which transportation and infrastructure experts came together to discuss how to move the conversation forward on addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs. One of the consistent themes throughout that meeting involved the need to put greater emphasis on performance metrics to assure the public and their representatives in government that investments in infrastructure are being well spent and having the kind of impact they hope in areas like economic development. Well there’s a new report out today from The Rockefeller Foundation and the Pew Center on the States that assesses the capacity of all 50 states to use those kinds of metrics to identify just what they’re getting for their transportation dollars.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a forum outside Washington, D.C. entitled “Changing the Conversation: Advancing a National Infrastructure Improvement Agenda.” The American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Planning Association and other organizations brought together nearly 100 attendees from the business, academic, government, advocacy, public utilities, transportation, planning and research communities to discuss what might be needed to overcome significant communication barriers and make the case for infrastructure investment in the United States. Here’s a rundown of some of the ideas I heard at the meeting, as well as some worthwhile links to the resources of some of the organizations seeking to move the dialogue forward.

State officials have plenty of thoughts on what should be in the next authorization of federal transportation programs. Last week they used a variety of venues to once again let Congress know their priorities for the successor to SAFETEA-LU, the 2005 authorization legislation that officially expired in 2009 which has been operating under a series of temporary extensions since. But many wonder whether a new bill that is expected to be substantially more limited in scope and dollars than past efforts can come close to meeting state wish lists.

The 2005 law authorizing federal surface transportation programs, known as SAFETEA-LU, expired in September 2009. In the interim, Congress has authorized a series of short-term extensions, but has yet to enact a new multi-year strategy. Whatever Congress decides will go a long way in determining whether America’s infrastructure will be ready to meet the demands of the 21st century economy. As state lawmakers confront an infrastructure system in dire need of repair, they also must recognize a desire to curb overall federal spending and widespread opposition to tax increases. This webinar explored the various proposals for reauthorizing federal transportation programs and how they may impact both state governments and the nation’s economic future.

With a federal budget deal last Friday, Congress may have temporarily averted a government shutdown, but there are still plenty of potentially contentious issues coming down the pike in Washington this year. One of those could be the future of federal transportation programs. This afternoon at 3pm EDT, CSG will host a webinar focusing on how that debate might take shape. It’s part of CSG’s Growth and Prosperity Virtual Summit of the States, a four-day webinar series. The forum will include two perspectives from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Dr. Ronald Utt is a Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C. think tank. Donna Cooper is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in the nation’s capital. Here’s a brief glimpse into where these speakers come down on some of the key issues in federal transportation reauthorization.

Policymakers in Washington are saying all the right things about a federal transportation reauthorization bill. They hope to finally tackle new legislation reauthorizing federal surface transportation programs in the next few months after a year and a half of delays and a series of temporary extensions to the previous bill, known as SAFETEA-LU. They are optimistic despite no agreement on a plan to fund those programs and widespread acknowledgment that any program based on existing revenues is unlikely to move the nation’s transportation system forward in a meaningful way.

Congress this week approved and the President signed legislation to extend federal highway and transit programs for seven months as Washington appears ready to get to work on a new multiyear reauthorization of those programs that officials hope to have in place later this year. Meanwhile, we learned a bit more this week about the shape reauthorization might take from the man in charge of a key House committee and from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. And just in time for the debate in Congress, a number of organizations and individuals are offering reauthorization resources and once again weighing in on what the legislation should include as well as the future of transportation policy.

Last month, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hosted a series of field hearings and listening sessions around the country to gather input on policies for a new long term authorization of federal transportation programs. Among the common themes heard at the events: the need for stability and predictability in federal transportation funding, the desire to explore more public-private partnerships and innovative finance mechanisms amidst a realization that they may not be applicable in all states or for all projects, the impact of environmental review processes on project delivery and the desire for greater flexibility for states and localities in spending federal transportation dollars. Here’s a roundup of some of what was heard at the sessions, based on written testimony and various media and blogger accounts.

Transportation figured prominently in President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal released this week. The proposal included the outlines of a $556 billion, six-year transportation plan. While some praised the plan for “bold vision,” others believe the lack of agreement on a revenue source to pay for it all and other factors will make it very difficult to achieve that vision.

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