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Senate Cuts School Construction From Stimulus Plan

February 6, 2009

By Tom Ichniowski
This story first appeared in Engineering News-Record

To win over a few key Republican votes, a small group of Senators has recommended about $108 billion in cuts from an economic stimulus package that had grown to more than $900 billion. The major construction program casualty is the original Senate stimulus bill's $19.5 billion for school construction funding, which the team of lawmakers deleted.

In all, a team led by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) trimmed $108 billion from the bill as it was introduced earlier. Cuts in spending accounted for $83 billion of the reductions and $25 billion came from cuts in tax incentives. Senate Democratic leaders have made the slimmed-down stimulus the version they're seeking to pass. Democrats need at least two Republicans to ensure Senate approval, and they are counting on the votes of Collins and Arlen Specter (Pa.), another GOP lawmaker involved in the group that recommended the cutbacks.

By Engineering News-Record’s calculation, the Nelson-Collins reductions in construction programs totaled slightly more than $27 billion, including the $20 billion cut for schools. That leaves about $133 billion in the Senate bill for construction-related spending.

But the numbers are by no means final. The revised Senate bill faces an important procedural vote, scheduled for 5:30 on February 9. If the measure survives that test, a vote on final passage would follow, perhaps on February 10. Then a group of House and Senate negotiators would begin meeting to work out differences between the Senate-passed bill and the version that the House approved on January 28. Given all those steps, Democrats may not meet their goal of having a final bill ready for President Obama's signature by February 16.

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There was some good news for construction in the slimmed-down Senate package. Several major construction categories escaped reductions altogether, including military and veterans projects, as well as highways, Corps of Engineers, and Environmental Protection Agency clean water and drinking water funds.

Transportation still would receive a total of about $45 billion for highways, transit, airports and passenger rail. Also untouched were EPA's $6 billion for clean water and drinking water state revolving funds the Corps of Engineers' $4.6 billion for civil works projects and the Dept. of Energy's $5.5 billion for environmental cleanup at the government's former nuclear-weapons production facilities.

Dept. of Defense and Dept. of Veterans Affairs construction likewise survived with no reductions.

The list of cuts by Nelson and Collins included the $2.25 billion that the original Senate stimulus measure allocated for public housing "stability and energy efficiency" under the Housing and Urban Development Dept. section.

Among other construction-program reductions are General Services Administration federal buildings, which was sliced by $2 billion, to $7 billion. Of the $2 billion cut, $1.5 billion would come from energy-efficiency upgrades, leaving that "green buildings" category with $4.5 billion.

Other Nelson-Collins cuts include EPA's Superfund account, which was pared by $200 million, to $600 million, and Bureau of Prison's facilities, which was sliced by $200 million, to a total of $800 million.

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