President Obama delivered a strong State of the Union address last night touting infrastructure investment as a bipartisan issue. Specifically, the President stated that:
“21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure — modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let's set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let's pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come."
NACWA and the Value of Water Coalition have been focused on making the nexus between infrastructure and job creation more clear and NACWA will continue to work with the Administration on any new infrastructure package.
Yet, just days before the State of the Union address was given, the White House announced the launch of a new Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center within EPA. The Center would serve as an information-sharing hub to help maximize public and private investment in water and sewer infrastructure, including a focus on public-private partnerships. The White House also announced a new bond program that, if approved by Congress, would effectively lift the long-standing caps on Private Activity Bonds.
Once again, the rhetoric of a bold, bipartisan infrastructure package which could put real new money on the table is instead being superseded by a potentially helpful, but ultimately insufficient, technical assistance-based effort.
At an event last week at DC Water’s Anacostia Tunnel site both Vice President Joe Biden and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced President Obama’s tax reform plan and launch of the Center. In both of their remarks they pointed out the EPA-estimated $600 billion water infrastructure financing gap. In his speech Biden noted that the Administration was all about clean water, repeating the words “clean water” at least a half-dozen times.
This is progress.
But now we must all work together to make bipartisan water infrastructure legislation – which continues to be talked about at the highest levels – into a bipartisan reality.