By Scott Berry, Director of Policy and Government Affairs, US Water Alliance

January 28, 2018

A regular installment on our US Water Alliance blog, where our Washington, DC, office will break down what is happening in Washington and how changes on Capitol Hill may affect One Water management across the country. 

Could 2018 Be The Year of Infrastructure?

The President’s Infrastructure Package

While the political environment in Washington does not lend itself to much bipartisan progress, some are hoping that infrastructure may provide some much-needed bipartisanship. All eyes are on the White House to see whether the President and his team plan to make the issue a priority and what they will propose. Most analysts expect the White House to release its infrastructure proposal – a framework, or set of principles rather than a full-fledged piece of legislation – around the State of the Union on January 30th.

The Administration’s perspective hasn’t changed much over the last year. We expect the White House to propose about $200 billion in new federal spending, aimed at incentivizing state and local governments to raise additional funds, as well as leveraging private capital and public private partnerships, adding up to a $1 trillion available for infrastructure. None of these details are finalized yet, and most analysts expect Trump to announce his proposal and leave it to Congress to work out how to make it happen.

This is consistent with a recently leaked outline purportedly of the Administration’s infrastructure proposal. While, dollar amounts are not present, the outline identifies percentages of funding that would be made available and criteria for eligibility. Water infrastructure is among the several categories of infrastructure that would be competing for funding under this plan, with a focus on innovative, transformational projects as well as rural projects. There is also a clear desire to increase involvement of the private sector.

Congressional State of Play

With many issues to resolve at the end of December, Congress decided to kick the can down the road to the end of January rather than risk a government shutdown or big partisan fight before the holidays. Now Congress is back, but things are not the same as they were before the recess. The Senate is now 51 Republicans to 49 Democrats after the victory of Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate Special Election to replace Jeff Sessions.

Also notable are the Republican committee chairs that are not seeking reelection: eight so far in the House, two in the Senate, with two others widely speculated about. That includes Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the committee with jurisdiction over wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. New leadership was expected there next year, as Shuster was term-limited at the top spot, but announcing his retirement may free him to pursue more aggressive infrastructure legislation without the worry of his reelection.

Too much on the plate?

Several issues are in the queue in front of infrastructure, vying for Congress’ attention—funding the government, spending caps, raising the debt limit, healthcare, renewing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and immigration. But, we are now in an election year, and conventional wisdom holds that the further into the year we get, the fewer things that Congress will get to the finish line. The myriad of other issues that are on deck, coupled with it being an election year may prevent infrastructure from getting its due.

These forces make it even more important for water sector leaders to speak in a unified voice about the value of investing in our nation’s water systems. Three important engagement opportunities are:

  • Water Week (April 15-21)
  • Infrastructure Week (May 14-21)
  • Imagine A Day Without Water (October 10)