Utility Contractor

MAR-APR 2018

As the official magazine of NUCA, Utility Contractor presents the latest information affecting every aspect of the utility construction industry, including technological advancements, safety issues, legislative developments and instructional advice.

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BY WILL BROWN Utility Contractor 33 By Will Brown billion will be given to existing infrastructure programs (TIFIA, WIFIA, RRIF, RUS) to expand the credit subsidy authority to make new loans and loan guarantees. These programs, and the leveraging they utilize, provide the bulk of the leveraging the plan counts on to reach the $1 trillion in investment figure the President promised on the campaign trail, and the plan outlines ways to make these programs easier to use by widening the scope of projects eligible for funds. $10 billion will endow a revolving fund to allow the General Services Administra- tion to purchase real estate. Lastly, $6 billion represents the cost, in terms of lost revenues to Treasury, of removing the volume cap for transportation and infrastructure project Pri- vate Activity bonds, but will require some level of state or local ownership. Additionally, the plan out- lines a series of changes to ex- isting programs, the biggest of which is the idea that projects with minimal federal funding will be exempt from certain paperwork burdens. The plan also outlines significant statutory changes for specific infrastructure modes. As ex- amples, the plan proposes allowing states to toll highway miles so long as the revenues are used for infrastructure, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund would be allowed to lend to private owners (the Safe Drinking Water Revolv- ing Fund already does this), and would allow small hub airports to apply for permission to utilize passenger facility charge (PFC) for airport infrastructure projects with much smaller regulatory burdens. The permitting process for federal agencies will also be streamlined and synchronized to work concurrently rather than sequentially. The White House acknowledges, as the infrastructure construction industry has been advocating for years, that investment in infrastructure creates jobs. With the in- creased investment for construction and maintenance of infrastructure through this infrastructure plan, the demand for skilled workers will increase. To prepare the industry for what could be a boon in new projects, the President's plan calls for three significant changes to the access to edu- cation and workforce development programs. First, the ex- pansion of Pell Grant eligibility to high-quality, short-term programs will allow vocational students greater access to federal student-aid. Second, reauthorizing and reforming career and technical education (CTE) to allow greater flexibil- ity in apprenticeships, on-the- job training, and eliminating bureaucratic barriers between industry and education insti- tutions will ensure students receive high-quality education and skills for the workforce. Third, reforms to the Federal Work Study program (FWS), which are currently targeted to four-year colleges, to better dis- tribute aid to in-need students in vocational schools will al- low greater access to these pro- grams for low-income and low- skill students seeking assistance with their education. There are some things miss- ing from the plan; two big things in particular. First, there is no mention of how the $200 billion will be paid for, which could add to the time and complexity of any plan moving through Congress. Additionally, the plan makes no men- tion of how to address the looming insolvency of the High- way Trust fund, a potentially $150 billion, or so, additional cost to the bill when it stars moving in Congress. Lastly, it's unclear how Congress will respond both in terms of structure and in terms of specific policy. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has expressed in its priorities the need to get an infrastruc- ture bill done, but remains sparse on details. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), who tried to kill PABs in tax reform, has said he opposes the expansion of PABs in the infrastructure package. Chatter from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress can be categorized as conceptually in favor of investing in infra- structure with a range of opinions on how, where, and at what cost. What is clear, is this issue will be heating up this spring in time for NUCA's Washington Summit. Will Brown is NUCA's director of Government Affairs. The plan calls for an investment by the federal government of $200 billion which will, once leveraged with additional fi- nancing mechanisms, provide at least $1 trillion in infrastruc- ture investment.

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