NACo has sent a letter expressing its priorities on the reauthorization of the surface transportation program to the Senate-House Conference Committee considering the measure, which met for the first time on May 9. The conferees made opening statements; however, little of substance was accomplished.
NACo’s priorities for the transportation portion of the conference include the off-system bridge program, which was added as an amendment during consideration of the Senate bill, and transportation planning where NACo supports efforts to retain current authority of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, both large and small, and expand the authority for transportation planning in rural regions.
It will be up to staff to work on reaching compromises on the many differing issues. There is no sense of how long it will take the 44 conferees to resolve the differences in the Senate and House bills.
Another transportation item in the NACo letter concerns streamlining projects and NACo’s efforts to support ways to simplify and speed up the environmental review of county highway, bridge and transit projects. The Senate bill also included a non-transportation issue: one-year funding extension of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program and Secure Rural Schools programs, both of which are very important to many counties and are an issue NACo’s letter urges that be included in the final bill.
NACo also commented on Keystone XL Pipeline. In the letter, NACo urges Congress to expedite the comprehensive review and submission for the approval process — including the presidential permit — for the Keystone XL Pipeline and other petroleum pipeline projects. The letter adds that it is equally important that a thorough review and permit process be completed in a timely and thoughtful manner. The letter addresses Gulf Coast Restoration and recommends adoption of the Restore Act, which would send 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalty fines from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the five affected states —Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.
The final priority in the letter is the Small Issuer Exemption, which NACo supports and is in the Senate bill only. The provision provides for the temporary increase in the small-issuer exception and will help bond issuers such as small county governments to bypass the costly administrative process of issuing bonds in the open market. It also can lower the borrowing costs on their debt to finance infrastructure projects.