I just got home from the 2016 ASCE Legislative Fly-In and it was fantastic. Here is a recap of the event along with some great photos we took in the Younger Member Program and during my visits with the Nevada legislators. The event took place from March 15-16 and included a pre-conference Younger Member Program, a legislative briefing facilitated by ACE Government Affairs, and constituent visits with state legislators. If you want more information about the format of the event, check out my article “ASCE Legislative Fly-In and Why You Should Attend.”
Younger Member Program
The Committee on Younger Members (CYM) sponsors this program. As the Programs Chair of CYM, I am currently responsible for planning this particular workshop for Younger Members. This session is generally designed for first-time attendees of the Fly-In and includes general information about ASCE Government Relations, round table discussions with other participants, and mock visits with legislators to prepare attendees for situations they may encounter on Capitol Hill. The final agenda of the session can be found here.
So far we received very good feedback from the session, which is posted here. Next year, I would like to improve this program by introducing the issues at the YM Program, give more clear direction on how to conduct the mock legislator meetings, and allow people to attend more than one roundtable session.
The regular program began at 4:00 pm on Tuesday, March 15. This portion of the program introduced the issues to about 200 participants. Each year, ASCE selects specific issues that generally have active bills in the House and/or Senate and they take a stance on those issues. We formulate these stances in a series of specific “asks” to each legislator, and this is summarized for each issue below. This year, the three issues were:
ISSUE 1: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Re-authorization
ASCE supports investing in aviation infrastructure and is insistent that this is done in the near future. In ASCE’s 2013 Report Card on America’s Infrastructure, aviation received a grade of “D.” In 2012 the FAA estimated the funds needed to make all necessary improvements would be $22 billion. However, if current federal funding levels are maintained, that cost will rise to $34 billion in 2020 and $63 billion in 2040. The asks for this issue are:
- Reauthorize the FAA bill.
- Remove or increase the cap on Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) that airports can charge so they can continue to make local improvements without federal dollars.
- Expand the use of Qualifications-Based Selection for money collected through PFCs (rather than a low bid selection process) to maintain high quality infrastructure.
Issue 2: Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2016
This bill authorizes money to be spent on water resource infrastructure such as dams, levees, and harbors. A two-year WRDA bill was passed in 2014, which was a huge victory for our aging infrastructure, but none of the money has been appropriated by Congress (in other words, the government authorized spending but the project has not actually been funded and no money has been spent on these improvements yet). Note that infrastructure that costs $1 to fix up front costs about $4 to repair once it fails, so these are important investments we should be making with our tax dollars. The asks for this issue are:
- Appropriate money for WRDA 2014 so we can begin making those improvements.
- Continue approving WRDA bills on a two-year cycle to ensure engineers have enough time to plan projects into the future.
- Authorize a Dam Rehabilitation Program in WRDA 2016 to dedicate funding towards the 87,000 US dams whose average age is 52 years.
- Expand the Public-Private Partnership (P3) Pilot Program that was developed in the WRDA 2014 bill to allow the Army Corps to access funds needed to make improvements.
Issue 3: Water Infrastructure and 2017 Appropriations
In light of the water crisis in Flint, MI, the severity of our water infrastructure has become more prominent in the media and public eye. The primary funding mechanisms for federal funding are the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). Both of these funds were cut in the 2016 appropriations process by over $500 million. ASCE supports funding the Water Infrastructure and Innovation Act (WIFIA) which leverages private sector investments to increase the effectiveness of federal funding. In addition, the Society supports H.R. 4468 (the Water Infrastructure Investment Trust Fund Act), which is bipartisan legislation to create a voluntary $0.03 label that any water intensive industry (bottled water, sodas, beer, or other beverages) could affix to their packaging and indicate that they are helping fund clean drinking water in America. The asks are as follows:
- Fund DWSRF and CWSRF and fully appropriate the money in 2017
- Fund WIFIA and fully appropriate the money
- Pass H.R. 4468 to allow businesses to voluntarily invest $0.03 of each beverage sold to water infrastructure.
After we were briefed on the three issues described above, we headed out for visits with all of our legislators. ASCE attempts to host two delegates from each state to ensure we get maximum exposure on Capitol Hill. Each person receives a schedule with set appointments with their two Senators and one Congressman (who is elected from their home district). Appointments are sometimes with the legislator themselves and sometimes with their aides.
This year, Nevada had seven people present at the Fly-In. Between us, we had appointments with five of the six Nevada legislators, and we dropped in on the sixth and spoke with an aide. We like to stay together in a group and all attend the meetings with the members of legislators, even if we aren’t in their voting district. Overall, we were able to meet with three legislators in person (Congresswoman Dina Titus, Senator Harry Reid, and Congressman Mark Amodei) and three staff members (in the offices of Joe Heck, Dean Heller, and Cresent Hardy).
The meetings went very well this year. I think the issues we presented this year are not very controversial and everyone seemed on board with improving American’s infrastructure. However, the current tone in Washington seems to indicate that no one wants to take responsibility for appropriating the money so we can actually make the necessary improvements.
It’s always really interesting to learn that our representatives are just normal people who are actually quite accessible. If you think this is an important topic to our country and our profession, voice your opinion by sending an email to your legislators! The most important thing you can tell them is that they will not get reelected unless they take these matters as seriously as we do.