Surface Transportation and Aviation Extension Legislation: A Historical Perspective
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS W eb
Surface Transportation and Aviation
Extension L egislation: A Historical
Specialist i n T ransportation
Specialist i n T ransportation
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congress is currently considering t he issu e o f p roviding ex tension l egi s l a t i o n t o
keep surface transportation and aviation p rograms operating b eyond October 1 , 2003.
In the cas e of s urface transportation, congressional authorizing and tax committees have
been unable t o reach final agreement o n t he details of a m ulti-year reauthoriz ation b ill.
Fo r aviation i t i s not clear that conference agreed upon legi slation (H.R. 2115) will best
brought before either t h e H ouse o r t he Senate before October 1 and m ay be
reconsi d ered at a l at er dat e. In o rder t o keep cert ai n federal t ransport at i o n p r o g ram s
operating at l eas t a short-term reauthorization i s r eq u i red. Ex tension l egislation has
been enact ed in the pas t. As this report s hows, ex tension l egislation i s n ot a regular
feat ure o f t he surface t ransport at i o n reaut hori z at i o n cycl e. In t he l ast decade, however,
it has become a common feat ure of t he aviation reauthorization cycle. This report will
This report i dentifies i nstances in which C ongress has p rovided f or short-term
ex tensio n of s urface transportation and aviation reauthorization l egislation pending
completion of m ulti-year bills.
Sur f ace Tr anspor tati on Extensi ons
There have been four major reauthorizations of surface transportation program s s ince
1980. None of the m ajor reauthoriz ations was enacted prior t o t he statutory ex p iration o f
t h e federal -ai d hi gh way, hi gh way s afet y, and t ransit progra m s . As will be discussed
below only one progr a m ex t ension became l aw (in 1997). An additional p rogram
ex tension b eyond the o rigi nal ex t ension was considered in 1998, but was rejected in the
House. In 1981, an Act (P.L. 97-134) was p asse d t o m odify the authoriz ation l evels for
FY1982. This Act while not t r u e e x tension l egislation was viewed by some as a
necessary event i n t he debate that led t o pas s a ge o f m ulti-year reauthorization i n l at e
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
1986/1987 and 1991, but CRS has not found a n y l e g i s lation t hat received s ignificant
congressional consideration during t hose p eriods.
The rem ai nder o f t hi s s ect i o n b ri efl y di scusses each of t h e four surface t ransport at i o n
reauthoriz ation cycles s ince 1980 from t he perspectiv e o f ex t ension legi slation. In
vi ewi n g each of t h ese cycl es i t n eeds t o b e rem em bered t hat s om e s urface t ransport at i o n
funding did not require authoriz ing l egislati on. This was especially the case p rior to the
budget changes m ade i n TEA21 (P.L. 105-178). P rior to TEA21, an appropriations act
was s uffici en t t o allow t he Federal Highway Administratio n ( FHWA), Federal Transit
Administration (FTA), and other Department of Transp o r t a t i o n (DOT) agencies t o
continue operating. These agencies were able t o s pend available d iscretionary funds and
reimburse states for t he use o f p reviously obligated funds, but were not able to obligate
new funds. In each reauthoriz ation cycle, t he most recent congressional action generally
s u p e r c e d e s any p revi ous act i o n (t h e ex cept i o n i s i f t he act speci fi cal l y provi des
otherwise). For ex am ple, the limitation on obligations set by t he DOT appropriations act
for FY1992 (October 1991) was s uperceded by the amount enumerated in the Intermodal
S u rface Transportation E fficiency Act (IS TEA)(December 1991).
Transportation Equity Ac t for the 2 1 st Ce ntur y (TEA21)(P.L. 105-178).
The m ost recent reautho r i z ation was anticipated prior t o t he begi nning of FY1998 on
October 1 , 1997. While legi slation h ad been reported from t he authorizing committeesst
i n t h e House and t h e S enat e, n e i t h e r h a d recei ved fl oor consi d erat i o n as o f Oct ober 1 .
In stead, t he House o n October 1 st passed a six -month ex t ension bill, H.R. 2516. The bill
would h ave p rovid e d t h a t a pprox imately half of the funding ex pected in the full
reauthoriz ation b ill then under consideration i n t he House (H.R. 2400) be provided for the
first s ix -months of FY1998. The b ill used the t hen ex i sting reauthoriz ation framework for
distribution of t he funds to the s tates.
Legi sla t i o n i n t r oduced in the S enate o n November 10, 1997 as S. 1519 and
ultimately enacted as P.L. 105-130 also provided for ex tension o f s urface transportation
programs, but did s o i n a different way. The Act provided s ome n ew contract authority,
but primar ily continued t he high way p rograms b y granting s tates access t o unobligated
carryover funds. Limits were placed on how much could b e obligated and all obligations
had t o b e m ade b y M ay 1, 1998. Additional n ew fund s were p rovided for safety and
transit p rograms at a level comparable t o s ix -months of their FY1998 appropriation.
An attempt t o ex t end ISTEA was m ade i n April 1998 by Rep. J ohn Pratt who sought
to provide a further t w o -month ex t ension during House consideration o f H.R. 2400
(H.Amdt. 550). This ex t ension was d efeated by recorded vote. No further ex t ension
legi slation was offered p rior to enactment of TEA21 on J une 9, 1998.
Inte rmodal S urface Transporta ti on Effi ciency Ac t of 1991 (I STEA)(P .L.
102-240). Fi nal consi d e r a t i o n o f w hat b ecam e IS TEA was d el ayed by congressi onal
consideration o f t he “a nickel for America” fuels t ax increase p roposal that was u ltimately
dropped for budgetary reasons. C ongress did not enact ex tension l egislation during
consi d erat i o n o f IS TEA. It al s o does not appear t h at ex t ensi o n l egi s l at i o n recei ved any
consideration at t hat time. Ex cept for those activities t h a t could be continued as part of
the appropriati o n s p r o c e s s , t h e s u r f a c e t r a n s p o r t a t i o n p r o gr a m s l a p s e d o n O c t ober 1 , 1991.
The l ack of funding for t he program, and t he negative e f fect this was h aving o n s tate
transportation cons t r u ction p rograms, was one of the p rincipal subjects o f t he
congressional d ebate t hat l ed to the p assage of the ISTEA conference report i n t he early
morning hours o f Thanksgi ving eve.
Interestingl y, the FY1992 Appropriations Act d id not adopt the s ame program format
as the one that ultimately evolved from ISTEA. The Senate version of t he appropriations
bill did have t he same structure as t he Senate reauthoriz ation p roposal, but this was
stripped out in conference with the House. The Appropriations Act as p assed, however,
did contain s ufficient fund s t o a llow for the s pending authoriz ed in IS TEA and t he
Appropriations Committee d id not take furt her action t o m odify the FY1992 Act.
Surface Transporta tion and Uniform Re location Assistance Ac t of 1987
(S TURAA)(P .L. 100-17). Of the reauthor i z a t i o n cycles under d iscussion here,
STURAA was by far the m ost politically complicat ed. There was, however, very limited
debate about program s tructure and few major p rogrammatic changes were m ade b y t he
A ct. STURAA was considered against t he backdrop of the d ebate about the f e d e r a l
deficit. Reauthoriz ation was anticipated prior t o October 1 , 1996. In stead final p assage
did not occur until April 2 , 1997, when Congress overrode President R eagan’s veto of the
The S enate p assed its version o f reauthoriz ation, H.R. 3129 (amended t o i nclude S.
2405 in the nat ure of a substitute) on S eptember 24, 1986 and immediatel y appointed
conferees. T he House h ad completed its consideration of t he bill on August 6, 1986. A
conference was h eld o n October 3 , 1 986, but the conferees were unable t o reachth
agreem ent p ri or t o adj our n m e n t o f t h e 99 C ongress. The l ack of an agreem ent w as
specifically related t o an i nability by the C onference to agree o n a funding level t hat was
acceptable t o t h e Reagan Administration and also to argu ments about raising t he speed
limit that w a s t h e n 5 5 miles p er hour. There is no indication t hat ex t ension legi slation
was considered prior t o adjournment. In stead , i t can be inferred from comments m ade at
the time that highway i ndustry i nterests pr ef er r e d t h a t t he issue be t aken up by a new
Congress that they ho p e d might be more sympat hetic to thei r appeal for additional
The 100th Congress took up reauthorization almost immediately upon its arrival,
begi nning consideration o f H.R. 2 i n J anuary of 1987. H.R. 2 was identical to the House
bill sent to conference the prev i o u s year. Due to a change i n party leadership in the
Senate, t he Senate bill introduced was not the b ill passed b y t he Senate, but was i nstead
identical to the bill as originally introduced the previous year. C onsideration of t hese bills
was s omewhat contentious, but a C onferen ce Report was agreed to on March 17, 1987.
Pres ident R eagan immediat el y vet oed t he bill. Congress overrode the vet o i n t he Senate
by a one v o t e m a r gi n. This was i n s pite of the fact that the P resident made an unusual
visit t o Hill just prior t o t he S e n a t e v o t e t o l obby against t he veto override. During t he
whole p eriod d iscussed above, no ex t ension legi slation was considered. Instead it appears
that pressure from t he stat es to effect passage of the l egislation pri o r t o the s ummer
building s eason was an important aspect of consideration p rior to passage.
Surface Transporta ti on Assistance Ac t of 1982 (S TAA)(P .L. 97-424) and
the Act “to a mend the S urface Transporta ti on As s i stance Ac t 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 i n
1981 against t he backdrop of a n ational recession and t he new R eagan Administration’s
calls for overall reductions in government spending. The then-in-force reauthorization act,
the S urface Transportation Assistance Ac t o f 1978 (P.L. 95-599)(November 6, 1978, had
purposely i ncluded a redu c t i o n i n s pendi ng for FY1982 in order t o accommodate the
budgetary concerns of the C arter Administration.
Congress began consideration o f m ulti-year legi slation i n early 1981 after receiving
two s eparate reauthoriz ation p roposals, one from t he departing C arter Administration and
one from t he new R eagan Administration. The R eagan Administration called for some
significant changes in the program , devolving certain activities t o t he stat es and reducing
funding f o r o ther activities. During the remainder o f t he session the S enate considered
multi-year reauthorization l egislation (S. 1024), while the House only considered single
year legi slation for FY1982 (H.R. 3210). The House completed action o n i t s bill in
September. The S enate d id not consider its bill until November 16, 1981 and t hen voted
to delay future consideration of t he bill. In December 1981, Congress reached agreement
on what was referred t o b y m ost as “ i n t erim” legi slation (P.L. 97-134). Although t his
action o ccurred after the b eginning of FY1982, some funds for t he year were available as
detailed i n t he 1978 Act.
Consideration o f what b ecame t he S TAA began early in 1982 and continued
throughou t t h e year until final p assage of t h e conference agreem ent b y t he S enat e on
December 23, 1982. The S TAA i s considered landmark l egislation, because it raised the
federal fuels tax b y five cents and created the m ass t ransit account of the h i g h w ay trust
fund. The Act contained numerous sign ifican t p rogrammatic changes for both h ighways
and t ransit, but most of the d ebate was about raising t he fuels t ax , which was o rigi nally
opposed by the R eagan Administration, but later i n t he year supported as a user fee
increase. The fuels tax i ncrease was unpopular with some until the end. Only a cloture
vote i n t he Senate, ending a filibuster against the fuels tax i ncreas e, allowed final passage
of the conference report.
There i s n o i ndi cat i o n t hat ex t ensi on l egi sl at i o n was seri ousl y consi d ered aft er t he
October 1 , 1982 ex piration o f t he high way p rogram (prior to the creati o n o f t h e mass
transit account by the S TAA all transit funding was d iscretionary and s ubject to annual
appropriations). A s w a s t he case i n earlier reauthoriz ation cycles d iscussed above, i t
seems t hat t he pressure on Congress by the states t o complet e consideration of t he
reaut hori z at i o n w as vi ewed as a p l u s b y t hos e pushing for s peedy congressional action.
Avi a ti on Extensi ons
This section b riefly discusses t he history o f s hor t t e r m e x t ensions of the Federal
Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authorization within the contex t of t he reauthorization
acts o f t he 1990s. It d iscusses i n m ore d etail t he authoriz ation ex t ensions that preceded
the passage of the W endell H. Ford Aviation Investment and R efo r m A ct for t he 21 st
Century (AIR21; P.L. 106-181).
Reauthoriz ation ex t e n s i o n s have been more numerous over t he last four aviation
reaut hori z at i o n cycl es t han h as been t h e case for surface t ransport at i o n p rogram s. P ri o r
to the enactment of AIR21 o n April 5, 2000, there were four ex tension b i lls and t wo
periods when the Airport Improvement Program (AIP ) went i n t o abeyance. The Federal
A v i a t i o n A ct of 1996 (P.L. 104-264) was enacted just nine days after t he FAA’s
aut hori z at i o n ex p i red and n o e x t ensi on was n ecessary for t his b rief period of program
abeyance. The p assage of the Federal Aviatio n Administration Authoriz ation Act of 1994
(P .L. 103-305) was p receded by the Airport Improvement P rogram T emporary E x t ension
Act o f 1994 (P.L. 103-260) which p rovided a six m onth, mostly retroactive, ex tension o f
obligational authority for AIP . Finally, t he Airport a n d Airway Safety and C apacity,
N o i s e Improvement, and In termodal Transportation Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-58 1 )
aut hori z ed FAA p rogram s for one year. In effect t h e A ct was an i nt eri m aut hori z at i o n o f
all FAA programs, although s ome might view it as a full year ex tension.
During the n early two year debate over t he reauthoriz ation o f t he Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) that eventu al l y led t o t he passage of AIR21, Congress passed
several s hort t erm author i z ations for t he AIP. The AIP provides grants for airport
development and could b e v iewed as t he construction portion of t he FAA budget. At t he
time, o t h er FAA budget categories (operati ons & m aintenance, facilities & equipment,
and research, engineering & development) could operate for a time under appropriations,
but the failure to authoriz e t he AIP would h alt t he funding of any n ew projects. A b rief
descr i p tion o f t he series of short t erm AIP authoriz ations during FY1999 provides an
ex am ple of t he mechanics of authorization ex t ens i o n legi slation. The ex i sting
authoriz ation h ad ended o n S eptember 30, 1998.
T h e f i r st ex tension of AIP ’s authorization was a s ix month ex t ension that was
inserted into the FY1999 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L. 105-277). This was done by
basicall y c h a n gi n g the authoriz ation d ates to October 1 , 1998 and M arch 31, 1999 and
replacin g the authoriz ation amount to an amount prorated to six m onths in 49 U.S.C.
1999. By this later d ate, however, reauthorization l egislation ( AIR21) had s till not
em erged from conference.
The second ex tension, the Interim Fed e ral Aviation Administration Authorization
Act (P.L. 106-6), enacted on March 31, 1999, basically added t wo months to the
authoriz ation b y i ncreasing t he authoriz ation t o an eigh t - m onth amount by striking the
six -month amount and i nserting “$1,607,000,000 for t he 8 - month p eriod b eginning
October 1 , 1998.” The obligational authority language merely changed t he month from
The t hird ex tension, inserted i n the FY1999 Emergency S upplemental
Appropriations Act (P.L. 106-31), enacted May 21, 1999, struck the l angu age i nserted o n
March 31, 1999 and replaced it with “$2,050,000,000 for t he period begi nning October
1, 1998 and ending August 6, 1999.” The obligational authority language struck, “May
After August 6 , 1999, the authoriz ation was allowed t o ex p ire, perhaps t o m aintain
pressure for action o n t he multi-year appropriations when Congress returned from its
Augu st recess. However, as the end of the 1999 f i scal year approached agreement was
still not in sight. Near the end of September 1999, Congress passed what was, i n effect
a retroactive authoriz ation ex t ension ( P . L. 106-59). This ex t ended t he authoriz ation t o
the end of the fiscal year and allowed t he funds, n o t o b l i gated during t he period of
abeyance, t o be rel eased.
P.L. 106-59 was t he last ex tension. The A IP was h eld i n abeyance from October 1 ,
1999 until AIR21 was finally enacted on April 5 , 2000. Again, some observers believed
that allowing the authoriz ation t o ex p ire at t he end o f FY1999 and p assing no ex tensions
may have i ncreas ed the pressure on the conferees to eventually report out a bill.
P r ior t o t he passage of AIR21, components o f t he FAA, other t han AIP , cou l d
operate on thei r appropriations. Title X o f AIR 21 appears t o require that any
authorization, including any ex t ension, broadly reauthoriz e FAA programs and operations
in order t o facilitate the agency’s continued operation.