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.

Letter Outlines Concerns with AV Start Act

A letter from five Democratic senators outlines concerns regarding automated vehicle legislation, which has passed out of committee and awaits action by the full Senate. The holds placed on the legislation by Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Ed Markey (D-MA) were previously known, but the letter revealed that Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Tom Udall (D-NM) also have concerns. The concerns expressed in the letter focus primarily on safety and preemption of state and local authority to regulate automated vehicles.

Cost and Timetable of California High-Speed Rail Shifts Again

According to a newly-released business plan, the cost of California’s high-speed train between San Francisco and Los Angeles has increased by 20 percent – from $64 billion to $77 billion – and will open in 2033, four years later than anticipated. The connection from San Francisco to the Central Valley is projected to open in 2029, also four years later than initial projections.

2018 Legislative Priorities & Updated Member Call Info

Members: Take a look at NARC’s policies and priorities for 2018 below. Additionally, NARC will host a member call to review these policies and priorities, explain how NARC staff are working toward achieving these objectives, and share best practices and tips for educating and influencing Congress.

NARC Member Call! NARC’s Policies and Priorities for 2018
March 14, 3:30 – 4:30 PM ET, Please note the new call time!
Dial: (571) 317-3122 / Access code: 304-259-525
Contact Neil Bomberg (neil@narc.org) or Maci Morin (maci.morin@narc.org) with questions.

Infrastructure Package
NARC urges the federal government to increase direct funding to expand and maintain the nation’s infrastructure, and provide incentives to attract private financing for the subset of projects that can be supported in this manner. The new infrastructure package should resolve the Highway Trust Fund’s funding shortfall, fund regional planning organizations, support multimodal investments, provide flexibility in the projects it supports, and fund existing grant channels.

Broadband
NARC urges Congress to acknowledge that local governments are a key player creating and incentivizing broadband deployment, recognize local authority over rights of way and other public infrastructure assets, encourage public-private partnerships, establish new grant programs to fund broadband deployment, and increase funding for programs targeted at unserved and underserved communities.

Disaster Recovery
NARC urges Congress to immediately reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program. In addition, Congress should solicit input and guidance from locally elected officials and regional councils on federal emergency preparedness and disaster recovery programs and initiatives. Congress should allocate emergency preparedness, response, and recovery funding directly to regions and localities that know the immediate needs of their communities best.

Farm Bill
NARC urges Congress to support sustained funding for all twelve titles of the Farm Bill to strengthen rural infrastructure (including broadband, water, and wastewater systems), protect our nation’s food supply, increase access to healthy food, and promote environmental stewardship and conservation. Congress should reauthorize the USDA rural development programs that offer critical investments in our nation’s most underserved communities, including the Strategic Economic and Community Program that promotes regional collaboration.

Protect Local Programs
NARC urges Congress to maintain support for federal programs such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Economic Development Administration, water infrastructure investment and maintenance, funding for senior programs, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) that ensure municipalities, counties, and regions meet the needs of their communities.

Funding for the 2020 Census
NARC urges Congress to increase Census funding by no less than $300 million above the current funding level, so that the Census Bureau can adequately prepare for the 2020 Decennial Census and support efforts to accurately count historically hard-to-reach populations.

Budget/Appropriations
NARC urges Congress to support parity between defense and non-defense discretionary spending for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Substance Abuse Crisis
NARC supports federal efforts to partner with local and state officials to help address the addiction and misuse of opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin, fentanyl, and other substances. NARC also urges Congress to provide emergency supplemental funding to local governments for medicine-assisted treatment programs, expanded drug abuse prevention and education efforts, naloxone, and drug take-back programs.

Brownfields
NARC urges Congress to reauthorize the Brownfields Reauthorization Act of 2017 (HR 1758), which would increase cleanup grant amounts, create a multi-purpose grant, allow for administrative costs, and clarify liability issues for local governments. NARC also urges Congress to at least maintain level funding for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Timing Highly Uncertain

Yesterday House T&I Chairman Shuster said that it will be difficult to implement the president’s infrastructure plan this year. Shuster hopes to pass a bill before August recess, but Congress may need to vote after the election in a lame-duck session. His comments follow doubts expressed by both Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and John Thune about Congress’ ability to pass a bill this year. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has focused her remarks on the efforts to eliminate regulations and streamline permitting, and has not spoken to a timeline for implementing the administrations’ full proposal.

Shuster Drops Proposal to Privatize ATC

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) announced today that he will end efforts to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system. Shuster, who is not running for reelection, acknowledged that the reform principles did not reach the level of support needed to pass Congress and that he will work with Senator John Thune (R-SD) to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Senator Thune has said that FAA programs will likely be extended through the summer. Current FAA authorization runs through March 31.

Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America

Washington, D.C. (February 12, 2018): The White House today released its long-anticipated “infrastructure package” that contains funding for a wide array of infrastructure projects with significant reliance on contributions from state, local, and private sources to achieve its overall investment goals.

The outline proposes a total federal funding level of $200 billion. By requiring significant local and state shares and encouraging private investment through expansion of existing financing mechanisms, the administration projects the resulting total infrastructure investment would be $1.5 trillion. Despite the call from a wide variety of organizations, associations, and others, the bill does not specifically contain any funding to help preserve the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund, which will run short of funding starting sometime in 2020. Nor does the proposal contain a specific offset for the administration’s proposed funding.

The proposed funding is distributed through several new programs:

  • $100 billion for the Infrastructure Incentives Program, with funding distributed by USDOT, EPA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Local and state share of funding would be at least 80%, with additional credit given to projects with a higher non-federal share and from state or local funding sources that were raised most recently.
  • $50 billion for the Rural Infrastructure Project, $40 billion of which would be distributed as block grants by formula to states based on total mileage of rural roads and rural population. The remaining $10 billion would fund “rural performance grants” for states that have prepared comprehensive reports of rural infrastructure.
  • $20 billion for Transformative Projects Fund to support innovative projects that would otherwise have a hard time attracting private capital. Would support three tracks of projects: demonstration projects (30% federal share), planning (50% federal share), and capital construction (80% federal share).
  • $20 billion for Infrastructure Financing Programs, including $14B for existing financing programs (TIFIA, WIFIA, RRIF) and $6B for expansion of PABs.
  • $10 billion for Federal Capital Financing Fund, a funding mechanism to address current issues with real property acquisition by federal agencies.
  • Establishes the Interior Maintenance Fund, up to $18 billion to pay for capital and maintenance needs of public lands infrastructure. Funding is not included in $200 billion total, because it is drawn from additional revenues from mineral and energy development on federal lands and waters.
Other interesting policy changes proposed include:
  • Removing restrictions on tolling existing Interstates.
  • Raising the cost threshold for designation of “major project” from $500 million to $1 billion.
  • Allowing utility relocation in advance of NEPA review completion.
  • Requires use of “value capture” for transit projects under New Starts.
  • Applying FAST Act streamlining provisions to rail projects.
  • Additional provisions regarding water infrastructure, VA facilities, brownfields rehabilitation, and Superfund cleanup.
  • An extensive array of streamlining provisions intended to achieve the administration’s goal of reducing the length of time it takes for federal agencies to review and approve infrastructure projects, with a goal of two years.
The full text can be found HERE.
Also see NARC’s press release HERE.
More to come as we complete a more thorough review of the proposal.

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National Association of Regional Councils
660 North Capitol Street NW Suite 440, Washington, D.C. 20001
202.618.5697 | www.NARC.org| @NARCregions

Press Release: NARC Responds To Trump’s Infrastructure Proposal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NARC Contact: Anna Rosenbaum / anna@narc.org
Transportation Contact: Erich Zimmermann / erich@narc.org

NARC Responds To Trump’s Infrastructure Proposal

Washington, D.C. (February 12, 2018) – With today’s release of the Trump administration’s Infrastructure Plan, the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) appreciates the national conversation regarding the important role the federal government plays in supporting the significant investment local governments make in the nation’s infrastructure. The federal government is crucial in the unique federal-state-local partnership that forms the cornerstone of the nation’s infrastructure investments.

“The release of today’s proposal is an important first step in the process of developing a bipartisan proposal that can help bolster local efforts to create and maintain our country’s world-class infrastructure,” said Bob Dallari, NARC President and Seminole County, Florida Commissioner. “We now look to Congress to continue the momentum and craft legislation that can help ensure stable and robust federal spending to support the infrastructure investments local governments across the nation are making.”

NARC has outlined several key points that will help ensure a final infrastructure investment plan that is responsive to local and regional priorities:

  1. Resolve the funding shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund to ensure financial resources are available to support, at a minimum, existing funding levels beyond expiration of the current FAST Act authorization.
  2. Increase direct funding for the nation’s infrastructure, with incentives provided for the subset of projects that will generate revenue and therefore are appropriate for private or other financing.
  3. Ensure a portion of new funding flows directly to local areas via their regional planning organizations, and through existing channels of distribution such as the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP).
  4. Support multimodal investments and ensure that new funding provides flexibility in the types of projects it supports, and explicitly recognize that transit, rail, bike and pedestrian, and other similar projects are important federal priorities. Increased federal funding through existing channels for TIGER, STBGP, New Starts, FASTLANE and Transportation Alternatives will support multimodal investments.

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Drivers May Pay $11.52 to Enter Manhattan’s Congested Areas

A new proposal from a panel created by Governor Andrew Cuomo would require drivers coming into central Manhattan to pay a $11.52 daily fee. Vehicles entering the central business district between 6 AM and 8 PM would pay, with a higher fee for trucks and a lower fee for taxis and ride share. The plan would raise an estimated $180 million and reduce traffic by 13 percent. Revenue would fund transit improvements on the city’s decaying subway system. New York would be the first city in the U.S. to implement congestion-zone fees, following in the footsteps of London, Stockholm, and Singapore, which have experienced increased average speeds, greater mass transit use, and improved air quality. Read more about it in this Bloomberg article.