TEA-21 Reauthorization: The Road Ahead

Andrea J. Fisher
Government Affairs Manager
APWA Washington Office

The reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which expires on September 30, 2003, promises to be an enormous undertaking. TEA-21 is the largest transportation funding bill in history and obviously all transportation interests and entities have a lot at stake in its upcoming reauthorization.

In order to be prepared and to best represent the interests of APWA membership, an internal TEA-21 Reauthorization Task Force was appointed nearly two years ago and undertook the large responsibility of drafting a policy that was adopted by the APWA Board of Directors in January 2002. The policy may be accessed via the Internet by clicking on the following link: http://www.apwa.net/Documents/GovtAffairs/TEA-21_policy.pdf. As you know, APWA and its membership have a strong vested interest in the reauthorization of this bill and, though a crystal ball is not available for predictions, there are basic facets of the upcoming reauthorization to consider.

First, the outcome of the November 5 elections has determined what congressional members will lead the two main authorizing committees in the House and the Senate with jurisdiction over TEA-21. These key committees are the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee. Please note that at the time of the drafting of this article the November 5 elections had not yet occurred.

Technically the kickoff point for reauthorization will be the release of the President's fiscal year 2004 budget (FY '04) in February 2003. The 2004 fiscal year will begin on October 1, 2003. The Administration worked on its TEA-21 reauthorization proposal throughout 2002 and sent its bill to the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) in October 2002. During a workshop held at the APWA 2002 Congress, FHWA staff reported that the primary focus of the Administration's bill is to protect and maintain the minimum guarantees and budgetary firewalls that are unique to TEA-21. Further, the Administration would like to keep but refine the Revenue Aligned Budget Authority (RABA) in order to prevent wild swings in funding levels. Flexibility is to remain a key component of the reauthorized bill and the Administration would like to see an expansion of innovative financing and funding sustainability. Improved intermodalism, safety and security serve as a base to the reauthorization proposal. Finally, looking at ways to address congestion, increase research and simplify and streamline project delivery are also purportedly included in the proposal.

Several members of Congress began jockeying for their pet positions on reauthorization through 2002 to introduce ideas, highlight aspects of the legislation that are believed critical for inclusion in the reauthorized bill, and gauge where congressional colleagues and transportation interest groups are with their priorities for TEA-21 reauthorization. Although there have been various bills introduced looking towards TEA-21 reauthorization, the process is not officially underway until after the introduction of the President's budget in February 2003. This is when earnest debate, drafting and redrafting will take place.

For APWA the identified key priorities spelled out in the adopted reauthorization policy are increased funding, timely project delivery, and flexibility. To date, APWA membership and its key advocating bodies, which include the TEA-21 Reauthorization Task Force, the Board of Directors, the Government Affairs Committee, the Legislative Advocacy Task Force, and APWA staff, have been very active in promoting the above-mentioned priorities. Until TEA-21 is reauthorized, advocacy efforts and relationship building will be paramount to ensuring that the APWA priorities become part of the new TEA-21, at this point unofficially known as TEA-3. It remains to be seen if the legislation will be reauthorized on time, but if history repeats itself that possibility is rather unlikely. Stay tuned.