White House Proposes Steep Cuts to Water Funding; NACWA to Push Back

White_House(March 12, 2019) -- The White House released its proposed FY2020 Budget on March 11.  As in prior years, the Trump Administration is proposing major cuts for a broad range of discretionary non-defense programs and agencies, including to EPA and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF).

The proposed budget’s accompanying narrative focuses strongly on prioritizing infrastructure spending, with particular attention paid to clean and safe water investment. Unfortunately, the proposed spending levels for water infrastructure programs suggest a different story and are significantly below current funding levels.

For example, compared to FY19, FY20 proposed funding to the Clean Water SRF would drop by $600M (a 36% cut), FY20 funding to the Drinking Water SRF would drop by $300M (a 26% cut), and FY20 funding to WIFIA would drop $43M (a 63% cut).

Other important and long-standing programs, such as Sec. 319 grants to states for nonpoint source control and EPA’s Geographic Programs for regions such as the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Puget Sound, would see funding dramatically cut or eliminated. Federal assistance to the States to implement their water pollution control programs, the Sec. 106 grants, would drop by $71M (a 33% cut).

To help reconcile the proposed infrastructure spending reductions with a stated focus on infrastructure investment, the proposed budget focuses on the value these federal programs provide by leveraging non-federal spending to drive investment.  However, details on where these non-federal dollars would come from are slim in the budget proposal. 

A notable bright spot in the numbers is that the Administration made a point to fund five of the new water programs created through the 2018 America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA). Several of these were top NACWA priorities in the 2018 AWIA bill, including the CSO/Stormwater Grants (for which the Administration proposed $60M of the authorized $225M), and the Water Workforce Development Grants Program (for which the Administration proposed $300K of the authorized $1M).

While these are positive inclusions, their scale as smaller programs clearly does not make up for the significant cuts seen to the SRFs, WIFIA, and other programs. However, the White House’s willingness to kick-start funding for these programs will help NACWA and others as we advocate with Congress for FY20 funding at the fully authorized level for these programs.

As with prior budgets, this FY20 Administration proposal carries little credence on Capitol Hill.  The proposed cuts to the SRFs and WIFIA in particular will face broad bipartisan opposition.  Congressional Appropriators will look to the budget for a sense of top-level spending limits and priorities, but will respond in turn by drafting the federal spending bills in closer alignment with Congressional priorities.

While NACWA is highly disappointed by the spending reductions proposed in the budget, we are already working with Congressional leaders and clean water advocates on the Hill to push back on the proposal, ensure Congress understands the importance and value of clean water programs, and maintain the increased funding levels these programs have enjoyed in the past two Fiscal Years.  

We hope all NACWA members can join us in this push during the National Water Policy Fly-In, April 3-4. Contact Kristina Surfus, NACWA’s Legislative Director, with questions or to discuss.