New Pressure To Up Water Infrastructure Spending; Broadband Funding Fleshed Out

April 2009 Vol. 64 No. 4

On the heels of the $6 billion emergency funding in the stimulus package for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, President Obama has proposed a huge increase for both funds in fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1.

His budget has $3.9 billion for the SRFs, a gigantic increase over what Congress is likely to approve for fiscal 2009: $689 million for the CWSRF and $829 million for the DWSRF. Obama’s $3.9 billion is divided into $2.4 billion for the CWSRF and $1.5 billion for the DWSRF.

The stimulus boost to the SRFs was a one year injection. Obama’s proposed funding levels for fiscal 2010 arguably set a new, much higher annual funding level going forward, dependent on whether Congress actually appropriates the higher figures, which is open to doubt.

“The increased funding levels show this administration is serious about addressing the water and wastewater infrastructure crisis confronting our communities,” says Ken Kirk, executive director, National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA).

And there may even be more in future years than the $3.9 billion endorsed by Obama for 2010. The House passed a bill by 317-101 on March 12, which combined provisions on five separate water infrastructure programs, including the CWSRF. The Water Quality Investment Act (H.R. 1262) reauthorized the CWSRF, which has not had its provisions modernized or funding ceiling increased since 1994. That bill authorizes $13.8 billion over five years for the CWSRF; that is $2.76 billion a year, more than the $2.4 billion Obama proposed in his fiscal 2010 budget. In addition, the House bill authorizes $1.8 billion over five years in grants to municipalities and states to control sewer overflows. Again, it is important to emphasize that these are funding ceilings; appropriators can decide to make less available in any given year. The now outsized federal deficit may prevent appropriators from coming close to any new, higher authorization levels.

The Senate is apt to take up a bill which reauthorizes both SRFs. Adam Krantz, a spokesman for NACWA, points out that bills that pass the House convincingly can get tied up in the Senate for parliamentary reasons such as the ability of one dissenting senator to put a “hold” on a bill. In this instance, any number of Senate Republicans could be expected to put a hold on a CWSRF/DWSRF reauthorization because of language in the bill requiring wastewater contractors to pay union wages on all state and local water construction projects, in compliance with the Davis-Bacon law, which currently applies only to federal government construction projects.