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Legislative Update

 

NUCA Political Insiders Report 2/8/2019

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Holds Hearing

On Thursday, February 7th, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held their first hearing of the year. This hearing examined the need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure and the cost of failing to act. The hearing covered a wide range of topics, from the needs to invest in roads, bridges, and water systems, to public private partnerships (P3s), to the best ways to build public support for action. Members of Congress and witnesses all spoke to the significant needs in our infrastructure and what could be the most effective way to address these issues. With this Political Insiders, I’d like to highlight some of the issues discussed yesterday that are relevant to our industry.

Overall, the hearing participants were cautiously optimistic and enthusiastic about the possibility to address infrastructure over the next few months. While they all recognized that there are significant challenges to overcome, they also seemed willing to work together to sell this issue to the American people.

The hearing led off with a discussion of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and the need to solve its pending insolvency. Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) voiced his support for an increase in the gas tax to fund surface transportation projects. While many lawmakers are resistant to increasing taxes, he and the witnesses pointed out that constituents value investments in infrastructure, and that politicians who support these increases do not usually face backlash or lose reelection. In order to avoid negative political consequences from these actions, it is necessary to demonstrate the benefits made possible by these tax increases.

In his remarks, Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) did not directly discuss the gas tax, but instead voiced his support for a transition to a vehicle miles traveled tax (VMT). He laid out his view that a VMT would capture all road users, and be the most sustainable funding source as vehicles become more fuel efficient or eliminate their gas use entirely. Even more conservative members like Mark Meadows (R-NC) did not explicitly slam the idea of a gas tax increase. Instead, he said that if Congress is going to expend the political capital on this issue, they should “go bold” and find a long term solution to these issues.

Participants also discussed the need to make improvements to water infrastructure. Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Grace Napolitano highlighted the need to address clean water needs, and in particular, the need to reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program. While the federal government made significant capital investments in systems in the 1970s, these systems are aging and funding for upkeep has not kept pace with needs. The CWSRF program can help municipalities make these improvements. Angela Lee, the Director of Charlotte Water, acted as a witness representing the Water Environment Federation and National Association of Clean Water Agencies. She highlighted recent studies that showed significant public support for improvements to water infrastructure and also urged Congress to take action on the CWSRF program. It was encouraging that water issues were addressed and this will give us a good foothold moving forward to advocate for our issues.

Throughout the hearing, participants also discussed the viability of P3s for different types of infrastructure projects. While they said that P3s could be appropriate in some circumstances, they expressed skepticism that they are a good fit for water infrastructure. This is because P3s rely on a return on investment for the private party, and since the only way to increase this return for water projects is to raise rates, many municipalities are hesitant to enter into these types of agreements.

Later in the hearing, workforce development was also discussed. Lawmakers want to know what industries are doing to address these needs and how the federal government can help. Again, workforce development has been one of NUCA’s top issues, so it is good to see that lawmakers understand it is a necessary component of infrastructure talks.

The committee’s hearing was a good first step in laying out infrastructure needs and it provides a blueprint for part of a potential infrastructure package. For our part, we will be building on this momentum and following up with lawmakers to help them move these issues forward.

Bryce Mongeon
Director of Government Relations
NUCA--Representing Utility & Excavation Contractor

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