Statement by Senator Max Baucus
November 4, 1997

Mr. Chairman, let me thank you for holding this hearing. It is a very timely topic and an important one, too.

How we deal with the funding issue over the next several months will have immense consequences for our states, the contractors, tens of thousands of workers, and indeed all of our citizens.

This committee, under the leadership of yourself and Senator Chafee, put a lot of work into a 6-year reauthorization of ISTEA.

It was reported from the committee with a unanimous, bipartisan vote. 18 to 0. With the campaign finance issue now resolved, I think most of us look forward to acting on that bill early next year, hopefully as the first order of business.

But we must decide what to do in the interim. And here is where we face some conflicting pressures. First, we want to assure continuity in the highway program. There are a lot of workers whose livelihoods depend on highway construction.

Furthermore, several federal programs, including safety programs, either have run out of money or soon will.

But on the other hand, too much continuity could reduce the incentive to pass a full 6-year reauthorization bill next year. And that would not be in our interest, either.

It seems we have several options. One is to do nothing this year and let the pressure build to pass a 6-year bill early next year. I think that is a dangerous course. We, or more correctly, the states, would be operating without a financial safety net.

And while the Senate might act responsibly and pass a bill early next year, one cannot predict what the other body may do or how long it may take to reach agreement in conference.

It also effectively shuts down several federal programs. So this approach has some problems.

Another alternative is a 6-month bill, which the House has already passed. This option provides more certainty for the states. But it involves the issue of formulas. So my guess is that this approach would involve some extended debate on the floor. I'm not sure we have the time for that.

There is also the suggestion that states be given the authority to spend their unobligated balances. This would provide states with some degree of certainty over the next few months. But since states could not continue indefinitely this way, there still would be interest in passing a 6-year bill. It also sidesteps the issue of formulas.

I hope each of our witnesses will level with us about what they think of these options, or any other suggestions they might have to address the situation.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for having this hearing and look forward to working with you, Senator Chafee, and the other members of the committee in the coming days to fashion the best course of action.