Washington Insight


Study documents large water infrastructure funding needs


Congress forms new Water Infrastructure Caucus


Jim Fahey

Director of Government Relations

APWA Washington Office


The 54,000 drinking water systems and 16,000 wastewater systems in the United States face staggering investment needs in order to replace aging pipes, to accommodate a growing population and to meet federal regulatory mandates.


A new report released in April by the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN), a broad-based coalition which includes APWA, shows that funding requirements for water infrastructure over the next 20 years will total nearly $1 trillion while investment levels will meet just half the needs.


Titled Clean and Safe Water for the 21st Century, the WIN study makes a compelling case for a renewed federal commitment to funding water infrastructure needs. Since 1980, as the report indicates, combined federal funding for drinking water and wastewater has fallen dramatically as some of the most difficult and expensive federal regulations are beginning to be implemented. Despite a doubling of local investment over the same period, many local systems continue to struggle to keep pace with the need for modernization and capital improvements.


In response to these concerns, two prominent members of the House of Representatives, Reps. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Robert Borski (D-PA), have formed the bipartisan Water Infrastructure Caucus, created to educate policy makers in Washington on the status and future of the nation’s water systems. The formation of the new caucus was announced at a Capitol Hill press event held in conjunction with the release of the WIN study.


Both Boehlert and Borski are well positioned to take a leadership role in moving the caucus issues and concerns forward. Boehlert is chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Borski is the ranking member. They are joined as caucus co-chairs by Reps. Michael Bilirakis (R-FL) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who serve as chair and ranking member, respectively, on the Health and Environment subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee. The caucus, which counts more than a dozen members, and growing, intends to hold briefings to raise the level of awareness on water infrastructure policy issues and other findings contained in the WIN report.


WIN’s report uses government agency data to show comparative funding trends nationally. It concludes that America’s drinking water and wastewater systems spend $23 billion annually for infrastructure but need to spend an additional $23 billion each year in order to meet existing and future federal water regulations. Drinking water systems account for about $11 billion of the unmet total need, and wastewater systems account for about $12 billion.


“This level of investment,” the report notes, “would be unprecedented and would face significant competition within local budgets from operating and maintenance costs that are escalating by six percent a year above the rate of inflation. Current federal contributions cannot help since they have declined by 75 percent in real terms since 1980 and today represent only about 10 percent of total capital outlays for water and wastewater infrastructure and less than five percent of total water and wastewater outlays.”


The report cites the need for new solutions to the investment problem. Without a significantly enhanced federal role in financing mounting water infrastructure needs, critical investments may not be made, the consequence of which could be a reversal of the tremendous progress achieved on behalf of public health, the environment, and economic development.


In addition to APWA, WIN members include organizations representing elected officials; drinking water and wastewater organizations; environmental organizations; and associations representing engineers, contractors, and equipment manufacturers. The full report can be found on APWA’s web site at www.apwa.net under Hot Topics. For more information about the report, contact the APWA Washington Office at 202-408-9541.



Rising gasoline prices prompt efforts to cut gasoline tax


Heather McTavish

Government Relations Coordinator

APWA Washington Office


Congress this spring responded to rising motor fuel prices by introducing several bills that would have meant billions of dollars in lost funding for state and local transportation programs.


Legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) and by Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) in the Senate would have repealed 4.3 cents per gallon of the motor fuel tax in an effort to lower rising gasoline prices at the pump.


The biggest threat came from Senator Lott’s bill, which was finally defeated on the floor  April 11. The bill, S. 2285, would have amended the Internal Revenue Code to provide for a 4.3 cents per gallon temporary repeal of the gasoline tax during the period after April 15, 2000 and ending before January 1, 2001. If gasoline prices were to exceed $2 per gallon, the entire tax would have been eliminated. The bill sought to restore lost Trust Fund revenues through the general fund. Groups who opposed the temporary repeal maintained that there could be no guarantee that funding would have been restored from the general fund. Opponents also argued that the bill undermined the Transportation and Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) that ensured investment in local and state transportation needs.


A federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon is deposited into the Federal Highway Trust Fund. A 4.3 cents per gallon reduction in the fuel tax would decrease revenue to the Highway Trust Fund by over $7 billion annually and result in a cut in funding roads, bridges, mass transit, and safety programs at both the state and local level.


Rep. Richard Pombo’s bill in the House, H.R. 3844, stalled in the House Ways and Means Committee and was never brought to the floor.


APWA and other organizations including the National League of Cities, US Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, Associated General Contractors, and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials sent letters to the Senate outlining the effects of the repeal on state and local transportation programs. APWA also developed a Fact Sheet that has been posted on the web site that describes the Federal Motor Fuel Tax, how it enhances state and local transportation programs, and the impact of reducing it.


With gasoline prices stabilizing, it appears that momentum to cut the gasoline tax has slowed for now.


For more information, contact Heather McTavish at (202) 408-9541 or hmctavish@apwa.net.