Hearing Analysis: Aligning Federal Surface Transportation Policy to Meet 21st Century Needs
On March 12th, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit convened to discuss prioritizing the reauthorization of highway and transit programs before they expire next year. Regions and local communities require continued federal infrastructure investment to provide regional connectivity and modern mobility through efficient multi-modal systems. For detailed notes, see NARC’s analysis from the hearing.
House Ways and Means Hearing: Our Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure and The Need for Immediate Action
Taking a vital step toward a robust transportation package this Congress, the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday held a hearing to discuss the need for more money to maintain and improve the nation’s infrastructure. The Highway Trust Fund needs immediate cash flow before it runs to zero in 2021. In addition, roads, bridges and highways in poor conditions cost individuals and businesses in measurable financial ways. At the hearing, funding models for investment were discussed in depth as members debated the use of a gas tax, VMT-based fee, and public-private partnerships as tools for creating revenue. The rural-urban divide was also discussed throughout. There were also conversations about creating stronger broadband infrastructure, water systems, disaster resilient communities and affordable housing while also addressing the effects of climate change. For detailed notes, see NARC’s analysis from the hearing.
The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies recently released its 3oth annual housing report, The State of the Nation’s Housing 2018. Managing Director Chris Hebert said, “By many metrics, the U.S. housing market in 2018 is on sound footing. But a number of challenges highlighted in the first State of the Nation’s Housing report 30 years ago persist today, and in many respects, the situation has worsened for both the lowest-income Americans and those higher up the income latter.” Long-term challenges that the report has identified include: an increase in cost-burdened households, constraints in the supply of new housing, more expensive land prices and housing construction costs, and decreased rates of homeownership among young adults and black households. See this recorded webcast for a discussion about the implications of the report’s findings.
On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a notice in the Federal Register seeking nominations to fill vacancies on EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC). EPA requests nominations of qualified candidates to be considered for a three-year appointment. The 15-member NDWAC was established by the Safe Drinking Water Act to provide practical and independent advice, consultation, and recommendations to the EPA’s Administrator on the activities, functions, policies, and regulations required by the bill. EPA’s notice solicits nominations to fill four vacancies from August 2018 through December 2020, and five vacancies from December 2018 through December 2021. To maintain the representation required by statute, nominees will be selected to represent state and local agencies concerned with water hygiene and public water supply (two vacancies) and the general public (two vacancies). Nominations are due by May 31, 2018.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently announced $68.5 million in funding through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for early-stage research of advanced vehicle technologies. Projects selected through this Vehicle Technologies Office funding opportunity will address one of five topics, including batteries and electrification, technology integration, and co-optimization of engines and fuels. The goals of this opportunity are to improve transportation efficiency and reliability by enhancing economic growth and enabling affordable mobility.
The Heartland 2050 Winter Summit Held in MAPA Region
Heartland 2050 is a community-driven initiative by the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) to pull in stakeholders across the region to think big picture and work toward a common vision for the metro area. This past week Heartland 2050 held its winter summit, where stories were shared about how communities have come together to solve seemingly intractable problems through a new form of collaboration called Collective Impact. Paul Schmitz, CEO of Leading Inside Out and Senior Advisor at The Collective Impact Forum, explains the Collective Impact as “when you align all of the organizations that work on an issue, so they no longer do their work on their own serving people here and there, but rather collectively move to a population level result.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) shut down the idea of a recessions package to reduce spending in the recently passed Omnibus bill, as has been floated in the House and by the administration. McConnell said that this action could imperil future negotiations with Democrats, telling Fox News, “you can’t make an agreement one month and say, ‘OK, we really didn’t mean it.’” He also pointed out that the administration was involved in bill negotiations and the President signed it, so they should not have been shocked to learn that the omnibus included Democratic priorities. Meanwhile, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told the House Appropriations Committee’s financial services subcommittee on Wednesday that he hopes to send a package in the coming weeks. He also said they plan to target money from previous years as well.
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.