Order Code RS21621
September 23, 2003
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Surface Transportation and Aviation
Extension Legislation: A Historical
nam e redacted
Specialist in Transportation
name re dacted
Specialist in Transportation
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congress is currently considering the issue of providing extension legislation to
keep surface transportation and aviation programs operating beyond October 1, 2003.
In the case of surface transportation, congressional authorizing and tax committees have
been unable to reach final agreement on the details of a multi-year reauthorization bill.
For aviation it is not clear that conference agreed upon legislation (H.R. 2115) will be
brought before either the House or the Senate before October 1st and may be
reconsidered at a later date. In order to keep certain federal transportation programs
operating at least a short-term reauthorization is required. Extension legislation has
been enacted in the past. As this report shows, extension legislation is not a regular
feature of the surface transportation reauthorization cycle. In the last decade, however,
it has become a common feature of the aviation reauthorization cycle. This report will
not be updated.
This report identifies instances in which Congress has provided for short-term
extension of surface transportation and aviation reauthorization legislation pending
completion of multi-year bills.
Surface Transportation Extensions
There have been four major reauthorizations of surface transportation programs since
1980. None of the major reauthorizations was enacted prior to the statutory expiration of
the federal-aid highway, highway safety, and transit programs. As will be discussed
below only one program extension became law (in 1997). An additional program
extension beyond the original extension was considered in 1998, but was rejected in the
House. In 1981, an Act (P.L. 97-134) was passed to modify the authorization levels for
FY1982. This Act while not true extension legislation was viewed by some as a
necessary event in the debate that led to passage of multi-year reauthorization in late
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
1982. Extensions may have been discussed during the other two reauthorization cycles,
1986/1987 and 1991, but CRS has not found any legislation that received significant
congressional consideration during those periods.
The remainder of this section briefly discusses each of the four surface transportation
reauthorization cycles since 1980 from the perspective of extension legislation. In
viewing each of these cycles it needs to be remembered that some surface transportation
funding did not require authorizing legislation. This was especially the case prior to the
budget changes made in TEA21 (P.L. 105-178). Prior to TEA21, an appropriations act
was sufficient to allow the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit
Administration (FTA), and other Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies to
continue operating. These agencies were able to spend available discretionary funds and
reimburse states for the use of previously obligated funds, but were not able to obligate
new funds. In each reauthorization cycle, the most recent congressional action generally
supercedes any previous action (the exception is if the act specifically provides
otherwise). For example, the limitation on obligations set by the DOT appropriations act
for FY1992 (October 1991) was superceded by the amount enumerated in the Intermodal
Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA)(December 1991).
Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA21)(P.L. 105-178).
The most recent reauthorization was anticipated prior to the beginning of FY1998 on
October 1, 1997. While legislation had been reported from the authorizing committees
in the House and the Senate, neither had received floor consideration as of October 1st.
Instead, the House on October 1st passed a six-month extension bill, H.R. 2516. The bill
would have provided that approximately half of the funding expected in the full
reauthorization bill then under consideration in the House (H.R. 2400) be provided for the
first six-months of FY1998. The bill used the then existing reauthorization framework for
distribution of the funds to the states.
Legislation introduced in the Senate on November 10, 1997 as S. 1519 and
ultimately enacted as P.L. 105-130 also provided for extension of surface transportation
programs, but did so in a different way. The Act provided some new contract authority,
but primarily continued the highway programs by granting states access to unobligated
carryover funds. Limits were placed on how much could be obligated and all obligations
had to be made by May 1, 1998. Additional new funds were provided for safety and
transit programs at a level comparable to six-months of their FY1998 appropriation.
An attempt to extend ISTEA was made in April 1998 by Rep. John Pratt who sought
to provide a further two-month extension during House consideration of H.R. 2400
(H.Amdt. 550). This extension was defeated by recorded vote. No further extension
legislation was offered prior to enactment of TEA21 on June 9, 1998.
Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA)(P.L.
102-240). Final consideration of what became ISTEA was delayed by congressional
consideration of the “a nickel for America” fuels tax increase proposal that was ultimately
dropped for budgetary reasons. Congress did not enact extension legislation during
consideration of ISTEA. It also does not appear that extension legislation received any
consideration at that time. Except for those activities that could be continued as part of
the appropriations process, the surface transportation programs lapsed on October 1, 1991.
The lack of funding for the program, and the negative effect this was having on state
transportation construction programs, was one of the principal subjects of the
congressional debate that led to the passage of the ISTEA conference report in the early
morning hours of Thanksgiving eve.
Interestingly, the FY1992 Appropriations Act did not adopt the same program format
as the one that ultimately evolved from ISTEA. The Senate version of the appropriations
bill did have the same structure as the Senate reauthorization proposal, but this was
stripped out in conference with the House. The Appropriations Act as passed, however,
did contain sufficient funds to allow for the spending authorized in ISTEA and the
Appropriations Committee did not take further action to modify the FY1992 Act.
Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987
(STURAA)(P.L. 100-17). Of the reauthorization cycles under discussion here,
STURAA was by far the most politically complicated. There was, however, very limited
debate about program structure and few major programmatic changes were made by the
Act. STURAA was considered against the backdrop of the debate about the federal
deficit. Reauthorization was anticipated prior to October 1, 1996. Instead final passage
did not occur until April 2, 1997, when Congress overrode President Reagan’s veto of the
The Senate passed its version of reauthorization, H.R. 3129 (amended to include S.
2405 in the nature of a substitute) on September 24, 1986 and immediately appointed
conferees. The House had completed its consideration of the bill on August 6, 1986. A
conference was held on October 3, 1986, but the conferees were unable to reach
agreement prior to adjournment of the 99th Congress. The lack of an agreement was
specifically related to an inability by the Conference to agree on a funding level that was
acceptable to the Reagan Administration and also to arguments about raising the speed
limit that was then 55 miles per hour. There is no indication that extension legislation
was considered prior to adjournment. Instead, it can be inferred from comments made at
the time that highway industry interests preferred that the issue be taken up by a new
Congress that they hoped might be more sympathetic to their appeal for additional
The 100th Congress took up reauthorization almost immediately upon its arrival,
beginning consideration of H.R. 2 in January of 1987. H.R. 2 was identical to the House
bill sent to conference the previous year. Due to a change in party leadership in the
Senate, the Senate bill introduced was not the bill passed by the Senate, but was instead
identical to the bill as originally introduced the previous year. Consideration of these bills
was somewhat contentious, but a Conference Report was agreed to on March 17, 1987.
President Reagan immediately vetoed the bill. Congress overrode the veto in the Senate
by a one vote margin. This was in spite of the fact that the President made an unusual
visit to Hill just prior to the Senate vote to lobby against the veto override. During the
whole period discussed above, no extension legislation was considered. Instead it appears
that pressure from the states to effect passage of the legislation prior to the summer
building season was an important aspect of consideration prior to passage.
Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 (STAA)(P.L. 97-424) and
the Act “to amend the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1978, to
establish obligation limitations for fiscal year 1982, and for related
purposes” (P.L. 97-134). Consideration of a multi-year reauthorization bill began in
1981 against the backdrop of a national recession and the new Reagan Administration’s
calls for overall reductions in government spending. The then-in-force reauthorization act,
the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-599)(November 6, 1978, had
purposely included a reduction in spending for FY1982 in order to accommodate the
budgetary concerns of the Carter Administration.
Congress began consideration of multi-year legislation in early 1981 after receiving
two separate reauthorization proposals, one from the departing Carter Administration and
one from the new Reagan Administration. The Reagan Administration called for some
significant changes in the program, devolving certain activities to the states and reducing
funding for other activities. During the remainder of the session the Senate considered
multi-year reauthorization legislation (S. 1024), while the House only considered single
year legislation for FY1982 (H.R. 3210). The House completed action on its bill in
September. The Senate did not consider its bill until November 16, 1981 and then voted
to delay future consideration of the bill. In December 1981, Congress reached agreement
on what was referred to by most as “interim” legislation (P.L. 97-134). Although this
action occurred after the beginning of FY1982, some funds for the year were available as
detailed in the 1978 Act.
Consideration of what became the STAA began early in 1982 and continued
throughout the year until final passage of the conference agreement by the Senate on
December 23, 1982. The STAA is considered landmark legislation, because it raised the
federal fuels tax by five cents and created the mass transit account of the highway trust
fund. The Act contained numerous significant programmatic changes for both highways
and transit, but most of the debate was about raising the fuels tax, which was originally
opposed by the Reagan Administration, but later in the year supported as a user fee
increase. The fuels tax increase was unpopular with some until the end. Only a cloture
vote in the Senate, ending a filibuster against the fuels tax increase, allowed final passage
of the conference report.
There is no indication that extension legislation was seriously considered after the
October 1, 1982 expiration of the highway program (prior to the creation of the mass
transit account by the STAA all transit funding was discretionary and subject to annual
appropriations). As was the case in earlier reauthorization cycles discussed above, it
seems that the pressure on Congress by the states to complete consideration of the
reauthorization was viewed as a plus by those pushing for speedy congressional action.
This section briefly discusses the history of short term extensions of the Federal
Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authorization within the context of the reauthorization
acts of the 1990s. It discusses in more detail the authorization extensions that preceded
the passage of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st
Century (AIR21; P.L. 106-181).
Reauthorization extensions have been more numerous over the last four aviation
reauthorization cycles than has been the case for surface transportation programs. Prior
to the enactment of AIR21 on April 5, 2000, there were four extension bills and two
periods when the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) went into abeyance. The Federal
Aviation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-264) was enacted just nine days after the FAA’s
authorization expired and no extension was necessary for this brief period of program
abeyance. The passage of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994
(P.L. 103-305) was preceded by the Airport Improvement Program Temporary Extension
Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-260) which provided a six month, mostly retroactive, extension of
obligational authority for AIP. Finally, the Airport and Airway Safety and Capacity,
Noise Improvement, and Intermodal Transportation Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-581)
authorized FAA programs for one year. In effect the Act was an interim authorization of
all FAA programs, although some might view it as a full year extension.
During the nearly two year debate over the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) that eventually led to the passage of AIR21, Congress passed
several short term authorizations for the AIP. The AIP provides grants for airport
development and could be viewed as the construction portion of the FAA budget. At the
time, other FAA budget categories (operations & maintenance, facilities & equipment,
and research, engineering & development) could operate for a time under appropriations,
but the failure to authorize the AIP would halt the funding of any new projects. A brief
description of the series of short term AIP authorizations during FY1999 provides an
example of the mechanics of authorization extension legislation. The existing
authorization had ended on September 30, 1998.
The first extension of AIP’s authorization was a six month extension that was
inserted into the FY1999 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L. 105-277). This was done by
basically changing the authorization dates to October 1, 1998 and March 31, 1999 and
replacing the authorization amount to an amount prorated to six months in 49 U.S.C.
48103. The provision also extended the obligational authority language (49 U.S.C.
47104(c)) striking the ending date of September 30, 1998 and replacing it with March 31,
1999. By this later date, however, reauthorization legislation (AIR21) had still not
emerged from conference.
The second extension, the Interim Federal Aviation Administration Authorization
Act (P.L. 106-6), enacted on March 31, 1999, basically added two months to the
authorization by increasing the authorization to an eight-month amount by striking the
six-month amount and inserting “$1,607,000,000 for the 8-month period beginning
October 1, 1998.” The obligational authority language merely changed the month from
March to May.
The third extension, inserted in the FY1999 Emergency Supplemental
Appropriations Act (P.L. 106-31), enacted May 21, 1999, struck the language inserted on
March 31, 1999 and replaced it with “$2,050,000,000 for the period beginning October
1, 1998 and ending August 6, 1999.” The obligational authority language struck, “May
31, 1999,” and inserted “August 6, 1999.”
After August 6, 1999, the authorization was allowed to expire, perhaps to maintain
pressure for action on the multi-year appropriations when Congress returned from its
August recess. However, as the end of the 1999 fiscal year approached agreement was
still not in sight. Near the end of September 1999, Congress passed what was, in effect
a retroactive authorization extension (P.L. 106-59). This extended the authorization to
the end of the fiscal year and allowed the funds, not obligated during the period of
abeyance, to be released.
P.L. 106-59 was the last extension. The AIP was held in abeyance from October 1,
1999 until AIR21 was finally enacted on April 5, 2000. Again, some observers believed
that allowing the authorization to expire at the end of FY1999 and passing no extensions
may have increased the pressure on the conferees to eventually report out a bill.
Prior to the passage of AIR21, components of the FAA, other than AIP, could
operate on their appropriations. Title X of AIR21 appears to require that any
authorization, including any extension, broadly reauthorize FAA programs and operations
in order to facilitate the agency’s continued operation.
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