Congress Continues Debating Infrastructure Investment; Utility Voices Still Needed!
After months of negotiations, Congressional Democrats continue inching toward an agreement on a significant “budget reconciliation” package. The bill is envisioned as building upon the bipartisan infrastructure package that already passed the U.S. Senate, and would further address priorities including climate change.
The reconciliation package was originally proposed at costing between $3-4 trillion but is being trimmed down through negotiations between moderates and progressives in hopes that Democrats will soon coalesce around a final deal.
NACWA has been advocating throughout this process for priorities that align with Congress’ stated reconciliation goals. With Congress working this week toward a deal to pare back the total scope of the package, it remains very timely for utilities to engage with their Congressional delegations to emphasize clean water priorities which are actively under consideration by Congress for this package – but which could be on the chopping block alongside many others as the scale of the bill is cut back. Below are bullets utilities should feel free to use in quick note to your Congressional offices:
- Invest in the Clean Water Act Sec. 221 Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants. Sec. 221 funding was authorized through the 2018 WRDA process and reconciliation provides a unique opportunity to grow this program as a powerful source of funding for municipal investments in reducing sewer overflows and improving stormwater management. The House has proposed providing $2 billion to this program via reconciliation.
- Support Low-Income Water Customer Assistance. We strongly urge Congress to include funding in the reconciliation package to help low-income water and wastewater ratepayers maintain affordable water services. A reliable program would provide greater water security for struggling households, while also helping water systems make critical investments to protect public health and the environment. The House has proposed providing $500 million for this need.
- Restore the Tax-Exemption for Advance Refunding Bonds. Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, municipal issuers were able to consider one advance refunding, allowing them to effectively refinance their outstanding debt in order to take advantage of more favorable interest rate environments or covenant terms. Restoration of advance refunding would be one of the most effective actions to provide state and local governments with more financial flexibility to weather downturns and increase infrastructure investment.
Utilities are also encouraged to consider leveraging the Association’s social media graphics to reiterate the importance of investing in clean and safe water. These are available at our Affordable Water, Resilient Communities website.
Once agreement on this reconciliation package is secure, the U.S. House is expected to quickly pass the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed the U.S. Senate back in August. That bipartisan bill, which includes historic levels of investments in clean and safe water programs such as the State Revolving Fund, has been awaiting a vote in the U.S. House while the reconciliation deal was negotiated.
Together, these two major pieces of legislation advance core infrastructure, climate, and social priorities outlined by President Biden in his Build Back Better agenda that was announced this spring.
President Biden has strongly encouraged Congress to reach an agreement prior to his departure this week for Europe, where he will meet with other world leaders for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference next week. But with the President departing on Thursday, October 28th it is increasingly unlikely this goal can be met.