ACEC's Government Affairs Update for the week of July 22, 2019.
In this week's episode, Matt Reiffer and Steve Hall discuss the upcoming Senate Environment and Public Works Committee markup of the America's Transportation Infrastructure Act, as well as the current status of water related infrastructure bills in Congress.
Announcer: 00:00 Welcome to the first edition of the ACEC government affairs update for the week of July 22nd, 2019 we're coming into the last few days of session in Congress before the August recess and we're seeing action on infrastructure and water. Starting to heat up. Matt Riffer is our expert on surface transportation in our Washington office and he's here to give us an update on what's happening on surface transportation. Matt...
Matt Reiffer: 00:34 Thanks Jeff. After a year where we expected a lot of activity on infrastructure and series of fits and starts from congressional leaders meeting with the administration. And you know, we got all excited a couple of months ago about a top line number of $2 trillion that hasn't really materialized in any subsequent meetings or conversations. Uh, now this week we're finally, as you said, getting some real action and legislative productivity coming out. We are had meetings today with the senior staff from the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, that EPW Committee has primary jurisdiction over federal highway programs, uh, and they are and have been working on a reauthorization of federal highway programs under the Fast Act, uh, and they are set to release that bill, uh, next week Monday. And they briefed us and other stakeholders on some of the high level content of that bill today which is very exciting as it's a first step in a long process to reauthorize the FAST Act. The FAST Act doesn't expire until, uh, next year, September 30 of 2020.
Matt Reiffer: 01:47 But we want to get a head start on this, given the political dynamics of the election season and the time and effort it will take to get this over the finish line so that the EPW processes the first start, first step and it is a great first start. According to the committee, it's going to be a five-year bill authorizing highway programs at $287 billion, which is a 27% increase above the fast act level. It will also include, uh, a repeal of the rescission that's scheduled at the end of the fast act, which is gonna take 7.6, seven point $6 billion off the table from state and arbitrary. We lower the baseline for budget scoring, so that's an important step as well. And we're going to be supporting a standalone effort to get that done soon. The bill will be a threefold, a heavy emphasis on safety emphasis on, uh, bridges and on resilience.
Matt Reiffer: 02:56 Uh, there's going to be new programs, both formula based for states as well as discretionary funding, a directed to those initiatives. A lot of issues that ACEC and our member firms had been very active and engaged on. A, what we've been hearing so far is very positive based on the priorities that we have outlined. Um, next steps after EPW marks up their bill they'll have to work with the other committees of jurisdiction in the Senate. They only have highways. Uh, the banking committee has transit programs. The Commerce Committee has, uh, highway policy as well as commercial vehicles and safety programs. And then the most essential, uh, the finance committee has jurisdiction over revenues that flow into the highway trust fund. Uh, there is $100 billion hole in the trust fund over the next six years that needs to be filled plus the additional funding that would be authorized in this bill. Um, the EPW committee leaders, uh, are expressing confidence and optimism that they can pay for these funding increases with the user fee revenues coming into the highway trust fund and they'll be working with their finance committee colleagues and Senate leaders to get that done after the August recess. So again, first step, but a very important step, the first tangible legislative product that we've got to rally around as an industry, uh, and a top advocacy priority for ACEC. So it's a very exciting, uh, and encouraging, uh, development this week.
Announcer: 04:28 That's fantastic news and we're looking forward to seeing how the bill develops and what happens at the mark up and we'll be sure to hear about that more next week and leading into August. And Matt, thank you for that update. So FAST Act authorization is one of the highlight issues in Congress right now, but there are other issues moving forward, including water and related issues. And Steve Hall, our Senior Vice President of advocacy is with us to talk about those.
Steve Hall: 04:54 Yeah, so progress on the fast act is very encouraging as Matt indicated and at, as we've been talking about, uh, may be the vehicle that pulls a number of other priorities, uh, forward as a larger infrastructure package. But beyond surface transportation, Congress wants to do water through the Water Resources Development Act or WRDA they've got to finish the appropriations process. And we recently had a deal, a two year budget deal that plugs in some additional resources for appropriations and we hope and believe we'll at least maintain the increases in the infrastructure accounts from the last two year deal. Uh, but in addition to the fast act, individual water components are starting to move. Uh, the house has a bill that would reauthorize and significantly expand the clean water act, state revolving fund program or SRF program. $20 billion over five years. Uh, grants for combined sewer overflows and other issues.
Steve Hall: 06:01 They're still working through some issues with respect to, uh, the regulatory side, whether to extend, uh, permits from five years to 10 years. And we're providing some technical guidance to committee staff, uh, on that. Uh, there's other pending legislation that would create a water trust fund. All of these may find a home in a word, a bill that traditionally includes a new Corps of Engineers, project offer authorizations and other related matters, other things that are waiting in the wings. We have a legislation that would create a new category of private activity bonds for vertical projects. That's the sort of thing that could ride on a FAST Act reauthorization bill. We've got a couple of expired tax provisions that are critical for, uh, vertical projects, uh, and encouraging energy efficient building design. those need to be extended as well as another provision dealing with renewable energy projects. Again, these are the kind of things that could ride on a larger, infrastructure package. Uh, and then other issues, other priorities for ACEC...Reauthorization of the Export Import Bank. Interestingly, that was done in the context of the fast act in 2015. So could that be something that benefits from movement on a surface transportation in the house and the Senate shaping up to be a busy fall, uh, looking forward to getting some things over the goal line.
Announcer: 07:31 So a lot going on in Congress. They're going out of session, but we will not, we'll be following all of these issues with staff and the members throughout August. Uh, and always, always encourage our member organizations to do the same when the members are back in their districts. Uh, just because they're not in Washington doesn't mean they're not working and it's a good time to meet with them there. That's the first government affairs update from ACEC, one of the first of many. Thank you for joining us and happy August. [inaudible].