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This Week in Washington - August 3



Blumenauer Introduces Wastewater Trust Fund Bill
Dam Rehab Legislation Introduced in the House
3 of 12 Regions in Georgia Take Control of Their Own Destiny, Approve T-SPLOST
Contact Your Member of Congress this August
Infrastructure Champion LaTourette to Retire
DOT Announces Transportation Grants
Tax Credit Extension Bill Marked Up
State Legislative Updates

 

 

Blumenauer Introduces Wastewater Trust Fund Bill

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill this week that would establish a federal trust fund to finance the construction and repair of publicly owned treatment works (POTWs).

H.R. 6249, the Water Protection and Reinvestment Act, would raise an estimated $6.5 billion a year from a series of fees “on a broad base of those who use water and contribute to water pollution,” the congressman said. “The taxes are designed to be collected at the manufacturer level, so any increased costs to consumers will be minimal.”

The trust fund would receive money from:

• A three-cent excise tax on containers of five gallons or less that contain water-based beverages, including bottled water and soft drinks.
• A three percent excise tax on items disposed of in wastewater, such as soaps and detergents, toiletries and cosmetics (including perfumes and sunscreens), toothpaste, toilet paper, and cooking oil.
• An excise tax of one-half of one percent on pharmaceutical products.

The taxes would expire on December 31, 2019.

According to a summary of the legislation, most of the funding from the Water Protection and Reinvestment Act would be distributed as grants and loans through the existing Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF). These funds are grants used to capitalize state funds, which then provide loans to publicly owned treatment works for wastewater treatment construction to meet Clean Water Act requirements and provide sewage services.

No funds would be made available to drinking-water facilities financed through the Safe Drinking Water Act SRF.

In 2011, ASCE released a report, “Failure to Act: the Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Water and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure,” that concluded that “water infrastructure in the United States is clearly aging and investment is not able to keep up with the need.”

In 2009, ASCE’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the nation’s aging wastewater and drinking-water infrastructure a grade of D. 

ASCE supports federal legislation to create a Water Infrastructure Trust Fun. Key Contacts should contact their Members of Congress and urge them to support this crucial legislation.
 

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Dam Rehab Legislation Introduced in the House

Representatives Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and Steve LaTourette (R-OH) introduced H.R. 6254, the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act of 2012, this week. The legislation would establish a program within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund dam rehabilitation and repairs and would award grants for assistance to publicly-owned deficient dams. The program would be a part of the National Dam Safety Program.

To address dam deficiencies, the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act would provide $200 million over five years for the repair, rehabilitation, and removal of publicly owned dams. The proposed legislation would distribute funds to state dam safety agencies based on the number of high-hazard, publicly-owned non-federal dams in the state, with the federal government’s share of any grant not exceeding 65 percent of the total cost of repairs.

ASCE supports enactment of the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act in the 112th Congress to address the estimated $12 billion in needed repairs for the nation’s most critical high-hazard dams. In the 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure the nation’s 85,000 dams received a grade of “D”. Key Contacts should contact their Members of Congress and urge them to support this crucial legislation.

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3 of 12 Regions in Georgia Take Control of Their Own Destiny, Approve T-SPLOST

Earlier this week voters in Georgia went to the polls and voted, among other things, on whether to impose a new 10-year Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST). Unfortunately, out of the twelve economic development regions, only three, Regions 7, 8 and 9, the Central Savannah River, River Valley and Heart of Georgia regions respectively, passed the referendum. The good news is that these three regions represent an estimated $1.83 billion dollar investment in infrastructure. The bad news is the other nine regions, including the metro Atlanta region, all rejected the plan, leaving a potential $16.8 billion of infrastructure projects unrealized.

The referenda offered Georgians an opportunity to vote for a one percent regional sales tax to fund transportation improvements in every corner of the state. If it had been approved across all twelve regions, the sales tax would have generated an estimated $18.67 billion over a 10-year period, which represents a significant investment in Georgia's transportation infrastructure.

ASCE policy states that adequate funding for operating, maintaining, and improving the nation's transportation system be provided by a comprehensive program with dedicated elements at the federal, state, and local levels, including: state and local sales, income, payroll, and/or property taxes. (ASCE Policy Statement 382 Transportation Funding)

Moving forward, Governor Nathan Deal, who campaigned in favor of T-SPLOST, has already stated that he will take a central role in transportation planning for the state's metro areas, and he would not support a sequel to Tuesday's referendum.

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Contact Your Member of Congress this August

Even with enactment of the transportation bill earlier this summer, our country still faces huge infrastructure needs. Make sure your lawmakers know what these needs are and how not addressing them will affect their constituents and businesses in their home states and districts. The best way to do this is meeting them face-to-face, either at a Town Hall Meeting or other local appearance, or by scheduling a Back Home Visit in their district office.

Members of Congress leave Washington this weekend for an extended August district work period which will also feature the two national party conventions. Congress will reconvene in Washington the week of September 10.

Check local news outlets and lawmakers’ websites for local Town Hall Meetings and other appearances, or contact your lawmaker’s office directly to set up a Back Home Visit.

Visit ASCE’s Back Home Visits briefing webpage for tips and to download issue briefs to use in your discussions with lawmakers and their staff.

If you meet with your elected officials or their staff, please let ASCE Government Relations know how the discussion went. Send an email to govwash@asce.org or complete the online feedback form here. 

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Infrastructure Champion LaTourette to Retire

Representative Steven LaTourette (R-OH) announced this week that he will not be seeking reelection in November. After 18 years of service in Congress, LaTourette has said he is leaving Congress because it has become too polarized to properly function.

LaTourette has been an infrastructure champion during his time in Washington DC. ASCE recognized his efforts by naming him an Honorary Fellow of ASCE in March 2011.

Congressman LaTourette’s departure means the loss of another moderate voice for infrastructure on Capitol Hill. ASCE applauds him for all the work he’s done to champion these important issues, and we wish him continued success in his future endeavors.

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DOT Announces Transportation Grants

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $363 million in grants to fund a variety of highway improvements, from interstate rehabilitation and reconstruction to technologies that result in improved safety and reduced construction congestion.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) invited states, cities, tribal governments and local planning organizations to apply for federal funding from 12 grant programs. Nearly 1,500 requests were received, totaling approximately $2.5 billion.

The 12 programs are:
• Public Lands Highway
• Interstate Maintenance
• Transportation, Community and System Preservation
• Ferry Boat
• National Scenic Byways
• Value Pricing Pilot
• Highways for LIFE
• National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation
• Railway-Highway Crossing Hazard Elimination in High Speed Rail Corridor
• Delta Region Transportation Development
• Innovative Bridge Research and Deployment
• Truck Parking Border Infrastructure

A state-by-state list of the FY12 grants is available here

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Tax Credit Extension Bill Marked Up

The Senate Finance Committee marked up a tax extender bill on Thursday that included a boost in the pre-tax benefit for transit riders, making it the same as for parking, and a provision for railroad track maintenance.

The transit provision would boost the pre-tax transit benefit from $125 per month to $240 monthly, according to a bill summary. The transit benefit was originally increased in the stimulus bill and went back down this January. The increase would be retroactive and expires at the end of 2013.

The railroad track maintenance credit would be extended until the end of 2013 as well. It is unclear when the full Senate will consider the legislation.

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State Legislative Updates

Alabama
Governor announces new road and bridge projects
Governor Robert Bentley announced Monday that 34 additional road projects and bridge projects will be undertaken in Alabama as a part of the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program. The governor announced in May projects that would be included in phase 1 of the program. On Monday he named additional projects that will move forward as part of the program. The governor announced the new projects during a news conference in Madison Monday afternoon.
Read More: Montgomery Advertiser 7/31


California
Cost of water tunnel plan not yet clear
Governor Jerry Brown's ambitious plan to drill two 35-mile-long tunnels 150 feet under the delta to move Sacramento River water south could cost $14 billion, as the governor has stated. Or, it could cost $19 billion. Or more - or less. The fact is, the cost of what would be the biggest public works drill the nation has ever seen - and even longer and wider than the Chunnel between England and France - has yet to be determined. "We don't have a good range yet," said chief engineer Jerry Meral, deputy secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency. "We have a $19 billion estimate, but we only have about 10 percent of the project design done at this point," Meral said. "It could go 30 percent up or down. "Right now we are just dealing with preliminary estimates," Meral said.
Read More: San Francisco Gate 7/29 



Colorado
Colorado transportation leaders lauded by the White House
Two Colorado transportation officials were lauded Tuesday by the White House for spearheading innovative approaches to solving transportation problems. Phil Washington, who became the Regional Transportation District's general manager in 2009, and Jacque Whitsitt, who has served on the board of directors for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority for nearly 14 years, were both designated as "Champions in Change" by the White House. Both Washington and Whitsitt were singled out because they have "provided exemplary leadership in the growth and expansion of the transportation industry at the local, state, or regional level."
Read more: Denver Post 7/31


Georgia
Report: Governor Deal not interested in another transportation referendum
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who actively campaigned for the T-SPLOST measure that would have added a 1 percent sales tax to pay for 157 transportation projects in Georgia, says he’s not interested in taking the measure to voters again, reports WABE. T-SPLOST failed in nine of 12 regions across the state Tuesday, including metro Atlanta. In the Atlanta District the vote was 63 percent against the tax and 37 percent in favor, according to Atlanta Business Chronicle broadcast partner WXIA-TV.
Read More: Atlanta Business Journal 8/2

NAACP asks feds to investigate Georgia DOT
The Georgia NAACP is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate what it says is the state's discriminatory practice of awarding transportation contracts. The letter, from state NAACP president Edward DuBose to Attorney General Eric Holder, suggests the Georgia Department of Transportation has an "ongoing, systematic and deliberate practice of under-utilizing minority businesses." The group's concern is based on a study commissioned by GDOT to examine its contracting practices. The report found that from 2009 to June 2011, the department used African-American owned firms in just 2.4 percent of its contracts while black-owned firms make up 14.1 percent of all companies available to perform construction and engineering work.
Read More: Atlanta Journal-Constitution 7/30


Illinois
Mayor's controversial Infrastructure Trust to hold first meeting
With high hopes and some skepticism about how it's actually going to work, Chicago's experiment in luring private investors to fund big public works projects is finally getting under way. After City Council approval of its board last week, the Chicago Infrastructure Trust holds its first public meeting Thursday to begin fleshing out what Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls a new “tool” to finance “transformative” projects, with little or no risk or cost for taxpayers. The first meeting is not expected to see a lot of decision-making. But it will start the process of hiring an executive director and consultants, appointing nonvoting advisers to the board and establishing policies and bylaws that will determine how the board operates. The trust also plans to apply for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service.
Read More: Crain’s Chicago Business 8/1


Massachusetts
Massachusetts lawmakers finalize major transport bill
Massachusetts lawmakers on Tuesday finalized a $1.39 billion bill for transportation infrastructure projects, including highway and bridge repair and railway expansion. The bill was completed late on the final day of the legislature's two-year formal session and sent to Governor Deval Patrick on Wednesday. The bill authorizes $685 million in borrowing for highway and public transportation projects, which will be matched in part by federal funds.
Read More: Reuters 8/1


Vermont
Vermont sells transportation bonds
Treasurer Beth Pearce says the bond sale will allow the state to proceed with 18 infrastructure projects across the state. Among the projects that will be funded with the bonds will be money for road and bridge improvements -- or replacement -- in Bennington, Cavendish, Hancock, Hubbardton, Jamaica and Woodford. The bonds are paid for with taxes on motor fuels.
Read More: Burlington Free Press 8/1


Virginia
Virginia sets nearly $1 billion project on I-95
Virginia has reached a deal to build and enhance a stretch of express lanes on Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia through a nearly $1 billion project slated to finish in 2014. The 29-mile project, intended to alleviate a clog-prone span, includes creating or upgrading high-occupancy vehicle lanes from Stafford County to Fairfax County. Governor Bob McDonnell announced Tuesday that a deal had been reached and said construction could begin next week. Under the agreement between the Virginia Department of Transportation and 95 Express Lanes LLC, a joint venture between Transurban DRIVe and Fluor Enterprises Inc., the state will own the road but 95 Express will finance, build and operate it for a 76-year concession period, according to McDonnell's office.
Read More: Richmond Times-Dispatch 8/1


Washington 

No state money for parks
As Washington's storied parks prepare for their 100th birthday next year, celebratory sentiment has been tempered by a fundamental question: What kind of system can this cash-strapped state afford? With many areas of state government reeling from budget cuts, lawmakers in Olympia have given Washington's parks system an unprecedented mandate to begin operating with no state funding beginning in 2013. It has been a rough transition. The linchpin in this new model is the Discover Pass, a $30 annual or $10 daily parking permit needed to access parks and other state lands. But a year after taking effect, the pass has brought in less than half of the $32 million expected.
Read More: Seattle Times 8/1 

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