By: Josh Mitchell September 15, 2011
U.S. aviation programs are in danger of being shut down for the second time this summer because of another funding dispute in Congress, this time over a $928 million program that finances bicycle paths and pedestrian walkways.
Congress must pass a bill to renew the Federal Aviation Administration’s taxing and spending authorities by the close of Friday to prevent parts of the agency from shutting down, as happened for nearly two weeks in July and August. Air-traffic controllers and air travel wouldn’t be directly affected.
But without congressional action, the FAA would be blocked from collecting an estimated $200 million a week in airline-ticket tax revenue that is largely used to pay for airport construction. Some FAA employees would be furloughed and scores of airport projects halted, idling hundreds, if not thousands, of construction workers.
The earlier partial FAA shutdown was rooted in partisan fights over rural-airport subsidies and union organizing that delayed Congress from extending the agency’s authorization. The temporary extension that Congress eventually passed expires Friday.
This time the dispute appears to be over a program unrelated to the FAA.
The House passed a two-pronged bill this week to keep the FAA funded for another four months and to reauthorize federal highway programs for six months. Senate Democratic leaders want to pass the bill and send it to the White House by Friday. But Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) has threatened to block a vote because of his opposition to a particular highway program that would be extended under the legislation.
Sen. Coburn has called for an amendment to repeal a program that he says requires states to divert transportation dollars from bridge repair and safety projects. Sen. Coburn said the “transportation enhancements” program, which amounts to about 2% of the roughly $51 billion distributed annually from the highway trust fund, pays for bicycle paths, pedestrian walkways, museums and landscaping at the expense of more pressing needs.
Supporters say the program improves pedestrian and auto safety and that any reforms should be addressed in a long-term highway bill that is expected to be taken up early next year.
One possible resolution would be for Congress to pass an FAA extension as a stand-alone measure and to take up the highway-funding dispute later. But leaders from each party appeared to be in a standoff Thursday.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, said jobs were at stake. “If the Senate doesn’t pass the FAA bill by tomorrow, 70,000 jobs are at stake and we saw what happened” in the previous partial FAA shutdown, she said. “It was tragic to see people saying, ‘I had no job.'”
The 70,000 figure appears to be based on a construction-industry formula that takes into account the broad, long-term economic impact of a loss of transportation-related jobs. One industry group said earlier this summer that a partial FAA shutdown would affect far fewer construction employees in the short term.
Source: THE WALL STREET JOURNAL