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Feds warn against highway funding complacency

Feds warn against highway funding complacency

Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxFirst US flight to Cuba's capital in over 50 years lands in Havana Feds want ‘driver mode’ for smart phones Dems call for probe of company after Alabama pipeline blast MORE is warning lawmakers against becoming complacent after the revelation that federal infrastructure funding is scheduled to last six months longer than previously expected.

Lawmakers are facing an Oct. 29 deadline for renewing the law that allows infrastructure spending, but the Transportation Department said recently that it has enough money to cover payments to states for transportation projects until June 2016

Previously, the $8 billion extension that was passed by Congress in July for the beleaguered highway fund was thought to include only enough money to last until the end of this year. 

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Foxx said Thursday in a blog post on the Transportation Department's website that lawmakers should not take their foot off the gas pedal now that they might have some extra time to complete a long-term highway bill. 

"With the recent funding infusion that Congress authorized in July, we anticipate the cash balance of the highway account staying above zero until June 2016, but that is far from the whole story," he wrote.

"Given the volatility of revenues and expenditures and the uncertainty of very micro-level projections, DOT must consider employing methods to conserve cash once the balance of the highway account falls below a prudent threshold," Foxx continued. "The latest transfer from the General Fund keeps the account's cash balance above the prudent level of $4 billion, but only until November 2015. At that time, DOT may be required to implement cash management procedures, and that will slow reimbursements to States for infrastructure work." 

Transportation advocates have worried that the reported extra cushion could give lawmakers cover to pass another temporary extension of federal highway funding instead of finishing work on a multiyear transportation bill, which has been sought by infrastructure supporters for years. 

When lawmakers were facing a similar transportation funding deadline in May, they opted to pass an extension until only July because the spending could be covered by Highway Trust Fund reserves. 

The policy authorization expiration date and the highway fund's projected date for running out of money coincided in July, forcing lawmakers to approve $8 billion for the infrastructure pot. 

Lawmakers at the time cast the July extension as a stopgap on a multiyear highway bill this fall. Foxx said Thursday it is important that they do not allow themselves to be lulled into passing another patch by the belief that they is more time before transportation funding runs out. 

"Although Trust Fund balances are currently expected to be sufficient to avoid the potential of cash management until mid-November, the failure of Congress to act prior to October 29 will prevent new obligations from the Highway and Transit programs — including grant awards, infrastructure loans, and even DOT payroll — and will further affect reimbursements to states," he wrote.

"So this is not the time to get complacent about the health of the Highway Trust Fund," Foxx continued. "And with only a little more than six weeks remaining until October 29, it is not the time to surrender the urgency of our fight for a long-term transportation bill that truly meets our infrastructure needs."