Budget Proposals Increase For Water Infrastructure

March 2010 Vol. 65 No. 3

President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget proposal (for the year starting Oct. 1, 2010) contains significant sums for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds in spite of pressure to reduce non-defense, non-entitlement spending because of the anticipated $1.5 trillion deficit for the year. In addition, despite a tight budget, the White House wants to spend $4 billion to create a new National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund, similar to a proposal the administration tried to get passed, unsuccessfully, last year.

SRF funding is the big issue in the budget as far as water infrastructure advocates are concerned. Clean water would get $2 billion and drinking water $1.28 billion, down slightly from what Obama proposed last year ($2.4/$1.5 billion) and what Congress finally appropriated ($2.1/$1.387 billion). But given the tight constraints on federal funding, water groups were happy with the numbers.

“The President’s investment in clean and safe water is greatly needed and provides benefits to the economy, the environment and public health,” National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) Executive Director Ken Kirk says.

John Krohn, manager, legislative affairs, NACWA, says Obama's proposed Infrastructure Fund would be a useful tool because the infrastructure deficits are so large across a variety of sectors: water, telecommunications, highways, energy, airports, railroads and ports. "But if an Infrastructure Fund or bank was seen as the Holy Grail, we would still have some concerns," he explains. He thinks it would be hard for sewers and drinking water to compete for funding with many of the needy sectors, almost all of which might be considered higher priorities. The Highway Trust Fund is nearly bankrupt, for example, and Congress refuses to increase the federal gas tax, which underpins the highway fund, even though it has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1994.

Moreover, the White House description of the Infrastructure Fund says it would be used to spur "projects of regional or national significance." It is not clear whether many, if any, of the local water projects applying these days for the two SRFs would meet that qualification.”