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Transportation a roadblock to adjournment.

With only days left before Congress planned to adjourn, House and Senate conferees remain deadlocked over key elements of a new surface transportation reauthorization program.

Initial Senate agreement with the House position on a six-year $151 billion measure faded as conferees accused each other of stonewalling over key provisions.

The conference is stumbling over the structure of the bill and allocation of formula funds to states, an issue which has plagued the bill since the authorization debate began earlier this year.

With adjournment tied to completion of the transportation bill, pressure from the leadership to complete the conference grows increasingly intense as other members of Congress push for adjournment. Business groups depending on transportation dollars have begun a massive campaign to keep Congress in until HR 2950 is enacted.

Congressional leaders are characterizing the $151 billion measure as a jobs program that will help alleviate harsh economic conditions at home. The state of the economy has also led the White House to tone down its criticism of both the House and Senate versions following months of veto threats.

Authorization for states to prevent federal highway dollars expired on September 30 and many Congressional observers have predicted that Congress would adjourn for the year without reaching a compromise. However, the enormous political risk of going home without a new bill and the potential damage to the economy appears to have spurred a renewed efforts to reconcile the two bills.

Conferees have stumbled over the formula for distributing federal highway and public transportation funds with western and donor states favoring the House version which would provide a minimum allocation based on actual highway usage and need. The Senate bill favors a formula that would base funding on an average of state allocations for the past five years.

The other major disagreement concerns the structure of the bill. The Senate bill would devote a large portion of the program to a state flexible program with a direct sub-allocation to metropolitan areas above 250,000 in population.

The House would spend a majority of the funding on a new National Highway System drawn up by the Federal Highway Administration with a minimum of local input. The Senate also has a National Highway System, but allows states wider latitude in spending its funds. NLC supports the Senate approach to the National Highway System, direct sub-allocations to metropolitan areas and the wider range of flexibility.

Local officials are encouraged to contact their congressional delegation urging enactment of the highway bill before Congress adjourns.
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Title Annotation:surface transportation reauthorization program; congressional adjournment
Author:Wollack, Leslie
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 25, 1991
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