Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk and media focus around the fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution to fund government through Sept. 30th this year, and the fiscal year 2012 budget that will get us through Sept. 30th 2012.

But, that’s not all Congress has been up to. They have been holding a series of hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The latest Senate hearing was held last week in the Environment and Public Works Committee to discuss “Issues for Surface Transportation Authorization.”

Likewise the Transportation and Infrastructure committee in the House has traveled all over the country to hold a series of town hall meetings and hearings to discuss the reauthorization of the transportation bill.

Both of those committees have vowed to move the reauthorization process forward, in hopes of getting it through Congress this year. Outside of those transportation committees, however, many politicians have said that a reauthorization bill is not likely to advance until after the presidential election — when talking about raising taxes is much easier. The federal Highway Trust Fund is nearly tapped out. New revenue is needed to advance our nation’s transportation infrastructure priorities.

As a result of the hearings, many interesting ideas have risen to the surface and some of them are getting legislative traction as the effort moves forward. For instance, if you listen to the Senate hearing above, you will hear several state transportation secretaries testify that first and foremost, our nation needs to focus on the immediate and dire need for maintenance and preservation of the national highway infrastructure system. But just like any of the issues that are brought to the committees, the conversation always seems to settle on how we are going to pay for the priorities we want addressed.

As we have heard over the years from our federal elected officials, it looks like the time may have come for the federal government to incentivize the larger metro areas to start raising local revenues to off set the federal spending. Many large metros are doing so already and they are suggesting that they be rewarded with larger allocations of federal funding. Check out what the Maricopa Association of Governments is proposing here.

As far as raising more federal revenue this year, most believe it is highly unlikely especially considering current general budget politics. But Sen. Max Baucus, who chaired last week’s Senate hearing on the issue, said he thinks there is merit to reauthorizing transportation in a two-year bill. That way Congress can utilize the remaining money left in the highway trust fund to get us past the presidential elections, and hopefully out of this economic recession. That concept is gaining some traction and it appears politically doable by the end of this fiscal year. While it is not the long-term solution most planners would like to see, it does provide some certainty in these politically trying times…

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