Congress approves budgetary framework including infrastructure spending plans

Congress approved legislation last week that ended a brief government shutdown, set a federal budgetary framework through the 2019 fiscal year and delivered billions of dollars in disaster relief aid to communities affected by the devastating hurricanes in fall 2017. The bill was approved as part of a deal between Republican and Democratic Senate leaders that also called for $20 billion in infrastructure spending over the next two fiscal years.

The infrastructure sector meanwhile awaits the release of the White House’s $1.5 trillion-plus infrastructure investment plan, which, according to multiple outlets, will propose a $200 billion investment in infrastructure projects over the next 10 years.

RELATED: Trump puts price tag on infrastructure plan, calls for private sector investment

The legislation approved by the Senate last week has multiple components.

First, the bill contained a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running through March 23, ending an overnight government shutdown that began when the previous CR expired. This latest funding extension is intended to buy Congress time to reach agreement on an omnibus spending bill that will finalize FY18 appropriations for the U.S. EPA and the rest of the federal government.

Next, the bill lifted the debt ceiling until March of 2019 and increased discretionary spending limits for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years by nearly $300 billion, breaking a stalemate during which Republicans sought more defense funding and Democrats wanted more money available for domestic programs.

Finally, the bill included nearly $90 billion in disaster relief funding for states and communities affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.  Included within this sum is $17.4 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for use on water resource projects in areas affected by the hurricanes or other recent natural disasters.  Another provision would allow Puerto Rico to access previously appropriated Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) dollars to repair hurricane damage at the island’s water and wastewater facilities or to enhance facilities’ resilience to rapid hydrological change or extreme weather.  Puerto Rico would not have to provide a traditional match to receive these SRF funds.

Outside the actual text of the bill, Republican and Democratic Senate leaders agreed to support billions of dollars of additional spending on a range of domestic priorities over the next two years.  The agreement calls for spending $10 billion each in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years on “infrastructure, including programs related to rural water and wastewater, clean and safe drinking water, rural broadband, energy, innovative capital projects, and surface transportation.”

RELATED: Lawmakers introduce bills to increase SRF dollars using WIFIA 

Congressional appropriators will ultimately decide how to divide this money among water, wastewater and other infrastructure programs, but the agreement holds the potential to bring a major infusion of dollars into the SRF and Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) programs when appropriators begin writing omnibus spending legislation to fund the government for the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year.  The deal also suggests that Congress will fund these infrastructure programs at higher levels in 2019, regardless of whether President Trump’s FY19 budget request proposes cuts for these initiatives.

Some information contained in this news first appeared in the Association of Metropolitan Water Agency’s Monday Morning Briefing for February 12.

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