Capitol to Capitol
An Information Service of NCSL's Standing Committees

Volume 18   Issue 25- July 11, 2011



Last week Florida Rep. John Mica introduced a six-year reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU that relies solely on dwindling federal gas tax revenue. An outline of the introduced legislation hints strongly that the plan would devolve program and funding responsibility to state and local governments. It would give states the authority to impose tolls on any new Interstate highway lanes, and rewards states that create and capitalize state infrastructure banks. The $230 billion plan consolidates or eliminates nearly six-dozen programs, relies on states to find the difference between current funding levels and constrained future federal funding, and streamlines project approval processes. The legislation also seeks to privatize some public and intercity transit. Like legislation being contemplated in the Senate and the president’s budget, however, Rep. Mica’s legislation avoids tackling the big question of how to fund the trillions in infrastructure maintenance and construction needs identified by numerous sources. Stay tuned, this issue is light years from the goal line, but faces a Sept. 30, 2011, reauthorization deadline. NCSL staff contacts: Molly Ramsdell, Helen Narvasa


Talks between deficit negotiators continued last week, with dialogue between the administration and congressional leaders expected to persist for days. There appears to be consensus on the urgency to raise the debt limit before the Aug. 2 deadline but not on what should be included in a comprehensive deficit package. “In all honesty, I don’t think things have narrowed,” stated House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. “I believe it’s important that we come to an agreement, but it has to be an agreement that really does fundamentally change our spending and our debt situation.” Last week talks reportedly centered around three proposals of varying sizes, ranging from $2 trillion to $4 trillion. With revenue increases and possibly entitlements off the table, however, a large scale deficit reduction package appears less likely. A possible deal of $2.4 trillion over 10 years—which would avoid congressional action on the debt limit until after next year’s elections—is now the center of attention. Lawmakers are hoping to reach agreement by July 22.  NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley     


The U.S. House of Representatives remains on course for completing floor or committee action on a dozen FY 2012 appropriations measures with state-federal discretionary program reductions remaining a bulls-eye for majority party appropriators. Last week, the House Interior-Environment appropriations subcommittee clipped more than 60 percent off of State Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Funds in its markup of draft legislation, in an effort to return to FY 2008 funding levels. The draft legislation is also laden with numerous “riders” prohibiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from modifying or updating more than a dozen proposed regulations. A House Commerce-Justice-State appropriations subcommittee also pared back programs last week, leaving the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program with only $387 million (31 percent less than FY 2011) and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) with nothing. This week the full House takes up legislation making FY 2012 appropriations for energy and water programs. The bill, H.R. 2354, proposes an 81 percent cut to the state-federal Weatherization Program and a 50 percent cut to the State Energy Program. The Senate remains in appropriations hibernation—having voted just one FY 2012 appropriations bill out of committee so far—while waiting for guidance from a comprehensive deficit reduction/debt ceiling agreement. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley (appropriations generally)


Later this month the House and Senate will consider legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget. A portion of the House majority caucus has made this legislation, H.J.Res. 1 and S.J.Res. 10, a condition for increasing the federal debt ceiling. Both bills impose annual federal spending caps of 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product and require super majorities for future increases in the debt ceiling and taxes. It’s been 14 years since the last serious balanced budget amendment votes were cast in Congress. In 1997, a call for a constitutional amendment cleared the House but came up one vote shy in the Senate. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley