After all of my experience with ASCE, one facet I never explored as a Student Member or Younger Member was legislative affairs. Every spring, ASCE holds a Legislative Fly-In and I attended for the first time last year. As someone who isn’t generally very political, I was very impressed and energized by the whole experience.
The two-day meeting consists of ASCE representatives from all 50 states, including ASCE leadership, general members, and Younger Members. The program educates the attendees about specific topics most important to ASCE and then organizes meetings with state legislators to discuss the importance of these topics. Our voice has a huge impact on their decisions because we are voting constituents giving them feedback about issues that truly matter.
Last year, the main issues focus was on supporting infrastructure and fixing the Highway Trust Fund. ASCE was asking for a long-term sustainable solution to fund infrastructure maintenance and new construction, rather than the continual short-term extensions and patches added to old legislation. ASCE’s formal stance on funding infrastructure was raising the gas tax. This was proposed as a five cent per gallon per year increase over the next three years (a total of 15 cents per gallon). On average, this would translate to about $150 per year for an average driver (or $12.50 per month). Though this can’t be viewed as a long-term solution for funding (because of things like increased use of electric vehicles, public transit, and bicycle use), it was seen as the best option available to manage our country’s infrastructure needs. The topic of infrastructure was summed up beautifully by John Oliver, and he even mentioned ASCE!
In March 2015, seven representatives from Nevada attended the Fly-In, and we visited the offices of six different legislative representatives. The feedback we received was that there was bi-partisan support to create a long-term (i.e. 5-6 year) bill to fund infrastructure. The support for the gas tax, on the other hand, was less favored, but still well-received.
After a long year, Congress finally passed a 5-year $305 billion transportation funding bill in December 2015. The bill will increase highway spending by 15% and transit spending by 18% by the final year. Although the source of funding was not raising the gas tax, Congress did come to an agreement about where the funding would come from. The bi-partisan agreement to increase infrastructure spending is certainly a victory for our profession and the citizens that depend on local infrastructure each day.
As someone who hasn’t been involved in this process in the past, I would like to say that this was one of the most exciting and interesting things I’ve been able to do with ASCE so far. As engineers we have a social obligation to inform the public about the state of our infrastructure and ensure that it’s safe for all users. I encourage everyone to become involved with legislative affairs at some point to gain new perspective of how we can positively influence out nation.
Next week we are off to DC again for the 2016 Fly-In. Follow me on Twitter to receive updates about the process and see photos of our visit to Capitol Hill!