Washington Metro May Finally Fix its 40-Year-Old Funding Problem

Since it was founded in 1976, the Washington Metro in the D.C. area has had trouble finding a dedicated funding stream that it could rely on for long-term planning. The organization said that it needs another $500 million of reliable funding per year to fix its aging and failing infrastructure. It appears that lawmakers from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have come closer to earmarking dedicated funds for the transit agency, with each setting their own funding goals and deciding how their jurisdiction would meet it. Within the last few weeks, Virginia lawmakers approved $154 million per year for Metro, Maryland lawmakers set the goal of $167 million per year, and D.C. lawmakers proposed $178.5 million per year.

FCC Ditches 2 Federal Reviews in 5G ‘Streamlining’

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a wireless infrastructure streamlining order last week to try to speed up American efforts in the race to 5G, exempting small cell deployments from federal historic preservation and environmental reviews. Now only states and localities that have their own review processes in place can mandate them. After a failed attempt to delay the vote for more input from tribal nations, environmental advocates, and local government officials, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel noted that streamlining the installation of 5G networks for the wireless industry will not guarantee improved access to underserved communities, such as rural areas and urban deserts. Read more in this Route Fifty article.

At Long Last, Congress and the President Fund FY 2018

After months of wrangling, five continuing resolutions, two short-term government shutdowns, and much argument over what funding levels and policy riders should make the final cut, Congress voted and the president signed an omnibus appropriations bill that will keep the federal government funded through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2018.

The $1.3 billion appropriation represents a significant success for our members! Many of NARC’s 2018 legislative and funding priorities received substantially more funding than the president requested and more than was appropriated in fiscal year 2017. Areas that saw significant funding increases include:

  • Transportation and infrastructure, including TIGER Grants, AMTRAK funding, and autonomous vehicles;
  • Community Development Block Grant (CDBG);
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) state workforce formula grants;
  • Economic Development Administration (EDA);
  • Census Bureau;
  • Opioid crisis relief, including funding for prevention, treatment, and law enforcement;
  • Rural water and broadband programs;
  • Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds;
  • Aging programs;
  • Low Income and Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP);
  • HOME Investment Partnerships Program and other housing assistance programs; and
  • Homelessness assistance.

Several policy riders and authorizations were also adopted as part of the omnibus, including:

  • Reauthorization of the EPA Brownfields Program, including NARC supported language;
  • Reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration is now extended through September; and
  • Short-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is extended through the end of July.

For more information, check out our new blog post on the FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill.

Bipartisan Letter for Great Lakes Restoration Funding

Representatives Sander Levin (D-MI) and David Joyce (R-OH) submitted a joint letter to the House Appropriations Committee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies requesting an appropriation of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) for FY 2019. With 63 bipartisan co-signers joining the effort, this is the largest number of signers supporting GLRI funding. Representative Levin said, “The fact that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative garners such strong, bipartisan support is a testament to the importance it has to our region and the nation. Our public health and regional economic vibrancy is built on the Great Lakes’ ecological wellbeing, which can only be maintained with our sustained and robust commitment.”

Farm Bill Talks on Hold

At the request of his colleagues, Representative Collin C. Peterson stopped Farm Bill negotiations until House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conway provides Democrats with the draft text of the Farm Bill and the Congressional Budget Office cost estimates and impact assessments. Disagreement over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is partly to blame – as Democrats have made it clear that they oppose the language for SNAP, as it has been described to them and reported in the press. Although Chairman Conway hoped to release a bipartisan proposal last week, it was put on hold to gain support from several committee Democrats. These recent developments are likely to delay committee action until negotiations can start again between the committee Democrats and Republicans.

Keeping the Government Funded

Another funding deadline is fast approaching, and Congress has yet to adopt a funding bill that will keep the government open through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30.

Despite increases in both defense and non-defense discretionary funding, many in Congress remain dissatisfied with the $1.3 trillion bill that House and Senate leaders plan to introduce today. The most serious objection is that this budget agreement will significantly add to the deficit, and therefore the debt.

There are also policy differences that continue to get in the way of a final agreement. Whether and how to shore up funding for the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood are two significant stumbling blocks. Funding for immigration enforcement, including the US-Mexico border wall; a host of tax extenders and provisions to address business concerns about the impact of the new tax law; the new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, which the White House opposes and is using as a bargaining chip; and school safety and guns also threaten an agreement.

Moreover, it remains to be seen whether House and Senate members have enough time to debate and pass a bill before Friday without resorting to another short-term extension. In light of the upcoming mid-term election, members of both parties want to show their base that the core interests of their communities are being addressed – and many members are attempting to use this bill to do just that.

Preparing the Next Generation of Leaders

To engage the next generation of leaders, some regional councils are putting on innovative programs for high school students. The Atlanta Regional Commission is now recruiting for its next round of its Model Atlanta Regional Commission program, bringing together 50 high school students from its 10-county region to learn about the issues shaping metro Atlanta. The program’s participants practice effective leadership, communication, and collaboration skills through the development of actionable ideas and efforts to promote positive change in the region.

Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization has been visiting various high schools in the region hosting “Think Like a Planner” workshops to teach students how to make their area more accommodating and safe for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and motorists. After walking around their local area, the students present their ideas for improvement to a panel of business professionals, showcasing what they have learned about urban planning and transportation decision-making.

NARC Co-Writes Letter for FCC Filing

NARC, in partnership with the National Association of Telecommunication Officers and Advisors, National League of Cities (NLC), and National Association of Counties (NACo), submitted a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expressing concern with their draft Second Report and Order for 5G deployment set for a vote on Thursday. By exempting “small” wireless deployments from review under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the draft order would pave the way for dramatic changes in our communities with limited or, in many cases, no opportunity for local review. We also express our doubts that rural areas and urban deserts will gain from these actions, making broadband deployment an even greater obstacle.

Will They or Won’t They?

Despite the administration’s optimism that Congress can vote on an infrastructure package before the election in November, there are hints that indicate otherwise. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), a key figure in determining whether we see legislation this year, delivered a recent speech in which he indicated that Congress is more likely to pass an “infrastructure package” as a series of smaller bills, including the must-pass FAA Reauthorization and Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). This is not a surprising revelation. There were early indications signaling that Congress could go this way (e.g. calling a series of work otherwise scheduled an infrastructure package), but this was the first time this strategy was publicly acknowledged by congressional leadership.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), who has recently pushed hard for an infrastructure package and an increase in the federal gas tax, acknowledges that a package that garners enough bipartisan support to secure passage is unlikely prior to the election. He believes something can happen in the “lame duck” period after the election, but there are reasons to doubt this outcome as well. Shuster also described the administration’s proposal to pay for a broader infrastructure package with cuts in funding for transit, rail, and TIGER grants as “smoke and mirrors.”

Chairman John Thune (R-SD) sent a similar message concerning the administration’s infrastructure proposal during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing yesterday attended by five cabinet secretaries (Transportation, Commerce, Labor, Agriculture, and Energy). Thune stressed the overwhelming need for a “significant source of revenue” to support their push for a $200 billion investment, a sentiment echoed by several committee senators. The administration would not take a side on the pay-for question, placing everything on the table but not pushing for a specific solution.

Fight Coming Over Clean Air Regulations

The Trump administration signaled this week that it could end California’s long-standing authority to set its own limits on air pollution, largely over a disagreement regarding fuel efficiency standards. The administration faces an April 1 deadline to decide if more stringent fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, established by the Obama administration, are attainable or need to be reworked. The federal government is seeking to leverage the waiver granted by Congress to California in 1970 that allows the state to set pollution standards that are more stringent than the federal Clean Air Act requires, using it as a wedge to convince California to agree to reductions in fuel efficiency standards. Automobile manufacturers are concerned that separate standards at the federal and California level – the state where more cars are sold than any other – would be overly burdensome.