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Note to Lawmakers: Stop Playing Chicken with the Funding Clock

In an ideal world, Congress would be working to come up with budget solutions for FY 19, rather than scrambling to find stopgap measures to keep the government open a few weeks at a time.

In an ideal world, stable, robust federal funding for our nation’s transportation system wouldn’t be a nonstarter.

And in an ideal world, a Republican-controlled Congress and White House would realize their responsibility to find common ground and seek bipartisan compromise in order to keep the government open and millions of government employees at work.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal world. This is Washington, where partisan bickering too often rules over common sense. As a result, Congress has a few short hours to come up with a funding plan or the government will shut down. Again.

It goes without saying a government shutdown — the second in four years — would be catastrophic for working people, our nation’s economy, and our transportation system. Just look at what happened in 2013. During a 16-day shutdown, more than 800,000 federal employees, many of them supporting our transportation system, were told not to come to work for an indefinite period of time. Another 1.3 million were required to work without knowing when they would be paid. The economy lost $24 billion and fourth-quarter GPD growth was reduced by 20 percent.

The shutdown also severely impacted our nation’s transportation system. Among other things, “NextGen,” the air traffic control project charged with making air travel efficient and safer, suffered major setbacks; critical transportation projects were delayed and job creation stalled because key Department of Transportation personnel were sent home; the Federal Aviation Administration was forced to shut down critical training and certification programs, furthering a staffing crisis at the agency; the National Transportation Safety Board was unable to initiate investigations into 14 accidents, and work on more than 1,000 other investigations was suspended; and major transportation contractors of the federal government furloughed thousands of workers in middle-class jobs.

If a shutdown occurs at the stroke of midnight tonight, the effects will be far reaching: nearly 2 million federal working people may not be paid, and millions of working families who rely on government services will be disproportionately affected.

Even if a shutdown is avoided, we need to fix a budget process that leaves millions of federal employees in perpetual limbo every time we reach a funding cliff. And while everyone rightly complains about our nation’s dilapidated infrastructure, stopgap funding measures mean states and local municipalities cannot plan for longer-term projects to improve transit systems, roads, airports, seaports, rail lines and other priorities. Translation? Shortsighted funding only further delays critical repair of our nation’s crumbling transportation system, idles middle-class job creation, and hurts the economy.

Playing chicken with the funding clock is no way to treat the federal government or the millions of hardworking, dedicated employees who help keep it running. While we may never live in an ideal world, political leaders in Washington can and need to do better.

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