Congress passed a budget – what does that mean?

Congressional spending bill lifts ban on oil exports, heavily funds construction

As the year progressed toward its end, members of Congress began to get things done, big things — like pass a transportation bill and approve a budget that keeps the lights on and the doors open. Two weeks ago, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed a $1.14 trillion spending bill for Fiscal Year 2016 (which began in September). It will allow the federal government to remain open and operating, and that means big things will be happening throughout the nation in 2016.

Included in the bill, for instance, was the repeal of the 40-year ban on oil exports and five-year extensions of tax credits for wind and solar energy. The General Services Administration’s budget tripled to $1.6 billion, including $948 million worth of new federal courthouse construction projects, and the Department of Veterans Affairs saw its construction budget double to $1.2 billion.

The new budget also devotes $2.8 billion to rural development programs and another $36.7 billion in loan authorizations for rural communities. This funding will pay for basic infrastructure that aids those communities in upgrading their housing, electrification and telecommunication projects.

The spending bill, especially when considered along with the passage of the highway bill at the beginning of the month, is important news for the nation’s construction industry. Jimmy Christianson, a government affairs representative for the Associated General Contractors of America, said, “It will be a much better fiscal year in 2016 for construction than it was in 2015, and even better compared to some years prior.”

The funding for the courthouse projects will affect a number of different federal judicial districts. The new courthouse in Nashville, Tenn., has been planned for more than 20 years and ranks first among on the Federal Judiciary’s priority list. The $182 million project was funded fully. In San Antonio, the Western District of Texas will get a new courthouse as well, after making use of a building that originally was constructed to be a theater for the 1968 World’s Fair before being retrofitted to stand in as a courthouse. Other cities that will benefit from the funding include Toledo, Ohio; Charlotte, N.C.; Des Moines, Iowa; Greenville, S.C.; Anniston, Ala.; and Savannah, Ga.

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