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.
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.
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.
Following the release of the $1.3 trillion fiscal year 2018 omnibus appropriations bill on March 21, NARC staff has been combing through the 2,232 page document to learn how localities will be impacted by these federal program funding levels. Much of it is great news for regions! The bill proposes additional funding for so many of the priorities we have advocated for over the last year.
Here are a few highlights:
TIGER Grants: The TIGER program increased to $1.5 billion, tripling FY 2017’s funding level of $500 million. It provides some planning money for the first time in many years, allowing for up to $15 million in planning grants. A minimum of 30 percent of the funds are reserved for rural areas, an increase from the current 20 percent requirement.
STBGP: FAST Act highway programs are fully funded, and the bill also includes a one-time increase of $198 billion for the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP). The increase will be distributed as it is through the FAST Act, meaning that funds will be suballocated to local areas. The funds are only eligible for road, bridge, and tunnel projects, and the STBGP set-aside (TAP) is waived. The bill includes an additional amount for public/Indian lands and territories ($320 million), and a new competitive bridge program in states with densities of less than 100 persons per square mile ($225 million).
New Life for New Starts: While the administration proposed narrowing the Capital Investment Grants Program (New Starts) funding to only cover projects already underway, the omnibus agreement provides nearly $400 million for new projects. This is an overall increase of $232 million.
Transit: Transit receives full FAST Act funding with an additional $834 million in general fund appropriations, which includes funding for state of good repair grants, buses, and bus facilities.
Rail: The bill includes large increases for several Federal Railroad Administration programs, including Amtrak which will receive $1.9 billion (an increase of $447 million) with $650 million allocated for capital projects along the Northeast Corridor (an increase of $322 million). The bill also includes funding for three FAST Act rail programs that previously received far less than their authorized amounts: the consolidated grant program to support PTC installation ($593 million), the federal-state partnership state of good repair program ($250 million), and restoration and enhancement grants ($20 million).\
Extends FAA: The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization is now extended through September.
Automated Vehicle Research: The bill repurposes funds to create a $100 million pot for study grants and implementation of an overall study program.
No Rescissions: The previous version of House and Senate bills would have rescinded contract authority, and an amendment by Representative Rob Woodall (R-GA) to the House bill would have made suballocated STBGP subject to rescission. Since this bill ditches the rescission, there is no need for the amendment.
Clearview Font: The bill temporarily prohibits the use of funds to enforce the termination of an Interim Approval to use the Clearview Font on highway signs and requires FHWA to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the research and report back to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
ACL: The Administration for Community Living is funded at $2.171 billion, a $178 million increase from fiscal year 2017.
Senior Workforce: The Senior Workforce Development Program remains level at $400 million, rejecting the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate the program and the House’s proposal to cut the program funding by 100 million.
OAA, Title III: The Older Americans Act (OAA) Title III programs received significant increases:
- $35 million increase to OAA Title III B Home and Community-Based Supportive Services
- $59 million increase to Title III C Nutrition Services
- $5 million increase to Title III D Preventative Health
- $30 increase to Title III E Family Caregiver Support
Boost to Census Funding: The Census Bureau is funded at $2.8 billion, an increase of more than $1.344 billion from fiscal year 2017. Over $2.5 billion of that amount will be going to periodic censuses and programs, including efforts to continue preparations for the 2020 Census Survey.
Community and Economic Development
CDBG and HOME: The Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) is funded at $3.3 billion – the amount NARC and the CDBG Coalition requested. The HOME Investment Partnerships Program is funded at $1.362 billion, an increase of $412 million. The Trump administration proposed to eliminate funding for both programs in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
SSBG & CSBG: The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) and the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) received level funding at $1.7 billion and $715 million, respectively.
State Workforce Formula Grants: Increased grants under Title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) by a combined $80 million, including:
- $30 million increase to WIOA Adult program
- $30 million increase to WIOA Youth programs
- $20 million increase to WIOA Dislocated Worker state grants
EDA: The Economic Development Administration (EDA) received a $25.5 million increase. This allocation ignores the Trump administration’s recommendation to eliminate funding for the agency.
Brownfields Authorization Language: The omnibus package contains the brownfields reauthorization language NARC has pushed for, including:
- Allowing local governments to acquire abandoned or tax delinquent property that is contaminated and to clean up the property without fear of liability
- Funding for brownfields cleanup grants
- Creating a multipurpose brownfields grant
- Allowing for the recovery of limited administrative costs
Urban and Community Forestry Program: The Urban and Community Forestry Program is funded at $28.5 million, an increase from fiscal year 2017. The omnibus package also includes a comprehensive fix for wildfire funding.
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program: The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Program is funded at $2.32 billion, a significant increase of $290 million. Rather than follow the Trump’s recommendations to cut the program by three-fourths, Congress chose to increase EERE’s funding by 14 percent.
LIHEAP: The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is funded at $3.64 billion, a $250 million increase. This program has been slated for elimination by the Trump administration for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
NFIP: The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is giving a short-term reauthorization through the end of July, incentivizing Congress to complete a full reauthorization before the August recess.
New Broadband Loan and Grant Program: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utilities Service received $600 million for a new broadband loan and grant pilot program.
Rural Development Programs: Rural development programs receive $3 billion, an increase of $63.7 million from fiscal year 2017. This includes decreases to the Rural Housing Service and Rural Utilities Service programs, which are funded at $1.99 billion and $661.4 billion respectively.
Substance Abuse Crisis
Opioid Crisis Relief: Includes a $3.2 billion increase for programs responding to the opioid crisis, including funding for prevention, treatment, law enforcement, and other purposes.
Coastal Zone Management Funding: The Coastal Zone Management Program is funded at $75 million, a $5 million increase from the previous fiscal year.
USDA Water/Wastewater Loans: USDA’s Rural Water and Wastewater Program would allow more than $3 billion in loans, $1.8 billion more than the previous fiscal year.
Water State Revolving Funds: The omnibus package provides $2.89 billion in funding to Clean Water State Revolving Funds and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, an increase of $300 million for each program. The WIFIA loan program also saw an increase in funding this year, currently standing at $63 million.
What Happens Next?
The bill quickly passed through the House and the Senate, leaving one last hurdle: getting the president’s signature. Trump tweeted this morning that he is considering a veto because of two factors:
- The bill presents no action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
- The bill does not provide the full $25 billion the president requested to build a US-Mexico border wall.
On Thursday, March 22 White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters that the president would sign the bill. The president has until midnight tonight to sign the bill to avoid a federal government shutdown. If he vetoes the bill and it goes back to Congress, a short-term continuing resolution might be employed to avert a shutdown and buy more time to discuss next steps.
UPDATE, March 23 at 1:30 PM ET:
In a White House press conference, President Trump signed the fiscal year 2018 omnibus appropriations package, making it public law. The legislation provides funding for the federal government through September 30, the end of fiscal year 2018. Although the president said, “there are a lot of things I’m unhappy about with this bill,” he approved the bill for national security reasons and because it authorizes a major increase in military spending. He criticized the rushed process Congress took to pass this bill, saying he would “never sign another bill like this again.”
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.”
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.