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Washington Insight

Appropriations stalemate

Andrea J. Fisher, Government Relations Manager
Heather McTavish, Government Relations Coordinator
APWA Washington, DC office

Working towards the completion of funding bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2001 has been a contentious and frustrating process for lawmakers this fall. Congress and the President have done battle on several funding issues and, as a result, there were six spending measures not yet approved by President Clinton at the time this article went to press. Despite the stalemate, seven funding bills have been signed into law. The following information highlights APWA funding priorities that have been completed in the appropriations showdown.

Transportation

A $58 billion transportation bill has become law, an $8 billion increase over FY 2000. The boost in funding includes a record setting $1.37 billion for individual highway projects earmarked by members for their states. Full funding has been provided for the Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21) including $3.2 billion for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the main source of funds utilized for airport infrastructure improvements.

In addition to the funding for special projects is a provision setting a new national standard for drunken driving at a blood-alcohol content of .08. States that do not implement the new standard will be pressured to do so by suffering a loss in federal highway funding of up to 8% beginning in 2004.

The bill also allows for the U.S. DOT to continue processing comments on the controversial proposed hours of service rule for motor carrier operators, but prevents it from finalizing the regulation. The US DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has extended the comment period on the proposed hours-of-service rule until December 15, 2000.

EPA

FY 2001 funding has been set at $7.8 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, a decrease of $25 million from FY 2000. The Senate fully restored the clean water state revolving loan fund (SRF) to $1.35 billion and the drinking water SRF at $820 million. A separate bill providing for a National Academy of Sciences study on the quality of science used in EPA's promulgation of the final total maximum daily load rule and published earlier this year passed the Senate on October 10.

Stafford Bill

After three years of working on a Stafford Act reauthorization bill, the House and Senate ended up passing a compromise bill crafted by conferees that is poised to be sent to the President.

The finalized bill:

  • Drops the requirement for states and local governments to maintain private or self- insurance to qualify for Public Assistance grants.
  • Authorizes a pre-disaster mitigation program as recommended by the state with FEMA paying 75 percent of the total cost of approved mitigation activities. The program sunsets in 2003, when Congress will decide whether or not to continue it. Each governor may recommend no fewer than five localities to receive pre-disaster mitigation funds.
  • Increases from 15 to 20 percent the maximum amount of assistance states can receive from FEMA for statewide disaster mitigation programs after a major disaster, while setting out the criteria for determining whether to increase the maximum percentage awarded.
  • Consolidates the temporary housing and individual financial assistance programs.
  • Requires state and local governments to develop comprehensive mitigation plans before receiving hazard mitigation funds.
  • Allows FEMA to estimate eligible costs for repairing, restoring, or replacing a public facility or private nonprofit facility.

FEMA

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved substantial FY 2001 funding for FEMA, including the $2.6 billion emergency contingency fund the House would like to have provided to communities after a disaster occurs. In addition, the Senate bill provides the $300 million requested for FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund, which the House proposed to provide as a contingency, and earmarks up to $15 million for flood-map modernization to support post-disaster reconstruction efforts.

Planning Regulations

Although the closing date for comment on the proposed rule regarding planning and environmental streamlining was in September, controversy continues to surround the proposal. Several groups have expressed concern over the environmental streamlining portion of the rule. In response, Senator Bob Smith (R-NH), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has introduced a bill (S. 3173) that would delay and revise the entire planning and environmental streamlining regulations. Thus allowing for a second round of comments with a final regulation being published no earlier than May 1, 2001.

APWA along with several other local groups has sent a letter to all Senators urging them to support treating the portion of the rule that would strengthen non-metropolitan or rural local official participation in the statewide planning process as a separate issue. To date, the bill has not gained steam and several Senators have expressed concern about S. 3173 and delaying the issuance of the final rule. Senator Smith has stated he may try to attach his legislation to the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill (H.R. 4577) in order to get it passed. However, this particular spending bill is typically the most difficult appropriations bill to pass so it is hard to predict if Senator Smith will be able to drum up support for his legislation.

As Washington Insight and the Dec/Jan issue of the APWA Reporter went to press, congressional leaders had finalized a plan to send Congress home through November 14, leaving the fate of outstanding issues in the FY 2001 budget talks to be decided after the election on November 7. The Senate approved a resolution November 1 that would keep the government fully operating through November 14 while members return to their districts to campaign. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott proposed the idea after learning that the White House would not object to the resolution. Both sides agree there are risks to waiting until after the election to finalize unfinished business. The outcome of the presidential election could give one side more leverage during final negotiations. Lame-duck Congressional sessions have only been held six times in the past thirty years.