March 16, 2017 – The 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Legislative Fly-In was attended by over 200 ASCE Members representing 49 different states. Many of the attendees were impacted by the Winter Storm Stella, which dropped over four inches of snow on the U.S. Capital.
The 2017 Legislative Fly-in program was conducted on March 14-16, 2017, and featured a day and half of in-depth briefing sessions on the recently released 2017 Infrastructure Report Card and key legislation action in Congress, training on raising awareness and influencing elected leaders, networking with ASCE peers from across the country, a Younger Member Program, tips on continuing relationships with elected officials once we return home, and culminating in one on one meetings on Capitol Hill with members of Congress and staff.
On Tuesday, at the Awards Dinner, the Alabama Section was awarded the “2017 Outstanding Section Civil Engineer Advocate Team of the Year.” The Section was recognized for their advocacy efforts on the State and National level for the past 15 months, including raising awareness about dam safety needs, efforts in protecting QBS language, organizing a Legislative Drive-in at Montgomery, and the development of the 2015 Alabama Report Card. The award was presented by the Society President Norma Jean Mattei.
The delegation from Alabama included Mr. Joe Meads, Alabama Section Legislative Captain; Mrs. Shelia Montgomery-Mills, Alabama Section Past-President; Mr. Lawren Pratt, Region 5 Governor; Mr. Ben Russell, Mobile Branch Past-President; Dr. Kate Leonard, Alabama Section Past-Secretary/Treasurer and Mr. Brad Williams, Montgomery Branch President.
The ASCE Government Relations staff scheduled meetings for each of the attendees with their Senate and Congressional Representatives within a short window on Wednesday afternoon. The meetings were very productive and informative and lasted around 30 minutes each. A leave behind packet was given to the staff containing an overview of current issues, so that they could review it with the Senator or Representative. The Alabama Team even had the opportunity to traverse the tunnels within the Nation’s Capital while traveling between the different Congressional Buildings.
After being dropped off at Capitol Hill, Team Alabama was off to the races to meet with every Senator and Representative on our list. As the afternoon progressed, the group had an opportunity to engage in spirited and encouraging discussions with the staff of Senator Richard Shelby, Senator Luther Strange, Representative Terri Sewell, Representative Gary Palmer, Representative Mo Brooks, Representative Martha Roby, and Representative Bradley Byrne. Adding to the experiences of the day was the opportunity to meet briefly with Senator Richard Shelby, Representative Gary Palmer, Representative Mo Brooks, and Representative Bradley Byrne.
Most discussions began with a brief overview of the results and conclusions of the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, which gave a grade of a D+ unchanged from 2013 and indicating the continuing needs of America’s infrastructure. The Report highlighted the benefits seen in seven categories where investments were made, three categories that continue to fall resulting in a lowering of grades and the remaining categories just holding steady. The focus of all discussions was the need for funding, consistent and sufficient, requiring bold leadership from all.
One of the key items discussed was the FY17 and FY18 Spending/Appropriations Bills so that the FAST Act’s increased funding can take effect during this fiscal year and next. Congress passed the five-year surface transportation act in December 2015 and included an increase in funding to help improve the nation’s highways bridges and transit systems. Most of the legislators were on board with the appropriations, however there was a lack of commitment without knowing what the Administration’s Budget would contain. If a Continued Resolution (CR) is passed, then Alabama will miss out on over $50 million dollars for FY17 alone due to the lack of a Fast ACT Appropriations Bill ($732 million up to $785 million).
Additionally, the team discussed several water issues with the Representatives and Senators that included the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. We asked the Representatives and Senators to reauthorize the Clean Water and Drinking Water SRF’s which hasn’t been done since 1990 and 1994. With most of America’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in need of repair and many areas dependent on these funds, the team advocated for both SRF’s to be tripled in appropriation from $1.39 Billion to $4.17 Billion for the Clean Water SRF and $863 million to $2.58 billion for the Drinking Water SRF in accordance with President Trump’s commitment to triple SRF.
In 2016 after years of work the Water Infrastructure Investment for the Nation (WIIN) Act passed both sides of the Hill and was signed by the President. WIIN supported previous pieces of legislation but Congress has yet to appropriate the promised funding in any of them. In 2014, Congress reauthorized the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP) in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) and established new High Hazard Dam Rehabilitation Program to provide grants to high hazard non-federal dam rehab repair or renewal. The NDSP program is authorized at $13.9 million a year until 2019 and the federal rehab program is authorized at $445 million over 10 years though neither have received any funding. Even if funding is appropriated Alabama would be unable benefit from the funding due to a lack of a Dam Safety Program in the state. In addition to dams, the team discussed the Levee Safety Program. With the WRDDA Act of 2014, Congress established a new levee program to promote consistent safety standards, create levee guideline, and provide funding assistance to the state for establishing participating levee safety programs. The program is authorized for $395 million dollars over 5 years however it has not received any appropriations for funding.
Lastly, with the push for tax reform and the discussion that is forthcoming including all tax exemptions, ASCE took the opportunity to remind legislators that the Tax Exempt Municipal Bonds are often relied upon for municipalities to complete infrastructure projects. The team discussed the importance to maintaining these as just one of many ways to trim our infrastructure deficit.
This has been a great year for the Alabama Section Government Relations Team, and we look forward to making it even stronger. If you are interested in participating in the future, please contact the Alabama State Advocacy Captain Joe Meads at email@example.com.
For more information concerning the Fly-In please visit http://www.asce.org/legislative_fly-in/ and also become a Key Contact at http://www.asce.org/keycontacts/ to stay engaged with advocating for infrastructure public policy.
Photos from the Fly-In