August 2012

We finally have some certainty with highway and infrastructure funding in this country.

With the passage of the highway funding bill on June 29, which was signed by President Obama on July 6, state departments of transportation across the country now know how much money they can spend on projects — a much needed clarity to help improve our economy and to address our aging infrastructure. Over the past few years, there has been a kick-the-can-down-the-road approach with infrastructure funding at the federal level with repeated short-term extensions. Now we finally have a long-term solution, which is remarkable considering we are in a presidential election year and both parties, for the most part, have no inclination to hand each other a victory, even if doing so would greatly help people. I’m frankly surprised this was done here.

The funding bill in short reauthorizes transportation programs through September 2014 at a cost of more than $100 billion. Approximately 80 percent of that goes to federal highway programs, 20 percent to mass transit. The bill also retains the federal taxes — 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel — that have been unchanged since 1993. Because the gas taxes are inadequate to pay for the bill, it includes other savings such as $9.4 billion from changing the method of calculating pension plan liabilities, $10.8 billion from increasing Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation premiums and $2.7 billion from raising premiums in the flood insurance program. It also saves $100 million by ending a loophole where machines selling roll-your-own cigarettes are not subject to tobacco taxes. Those savings also make up for the costs in the student loan bill.

Yes, you read correctly: student loans were a part of the highway bill, which actually caused most of the problems with getting this one passed. But, for a change, the GOP and Democrats came together to iron out the funding issues with that and we (with great relief) got our highway bill.

I wish I could be more optimistic that other things will get done to help people this summer and fall prior to the election. But we have one very important thing accomplished that will help create jobs in an industry that has been decimated over the past several years. Certainty can go a long way toward getting us out of this recession, and we’ll have even more it after November.

You can also view previous issues of Superintendent's Profile.