Policy Brief

Support County Priorities in Any New Federal Infrastructure Package

ACTION NEEDED:

Urge your members of Congress to support county transportation and infrastructure priorities in any new infrastructure bill presented by Congress.

BACKGROUND:

Counties play a critical role in the nation’s transportation and infrastructure system, owning 45 percent of all public roads and nearly 40 percent of the National Bridge Inventory. Counties are directly involved with the operation of 78 percent of public transit systems and 34 percent of public airports that connect residents, communities and businesses with the national and global economies. Each year, counties invest roughly $134 billion in infrastructure and maintaining and operating public works.

In the 116th Congress, there is renewed interest to pass a bipartisan, comprehensive infrastructure package. However, with the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election, the passage of such a largescale bill may prove challenging.

In February 2018, the Trump Administration released its plan for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package, which primarily included grant funding and regulatory reform. After gaining the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats responded with their own proposed $2 trillion infrastructure package. Negotiations between President Trump and House Democrats eventually stalled due to disagreements on both funding sources and levels.

In November 2019, House Democrats renewed hopes of a potential infrastructure package with an announcement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that the U.S. House planned to advance a $1 trillion infrastructure package by bundling major pieces of legislation that typically move separately.

In January 2020, the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, along with Speaker Pelosi, unveiled a five-year, $760 billion infrastructure proposal for FY 2021 through 2025 that would do just that. The “Moving America and the Environment Forward” framework would roll a surface transportation reauthorization into a package with other infrastructure legislation that would fund roads, transit, rail, aviation, ports, broadband, wastewater and drinking water 

projects. While the proposal does not contain actual bill text and does not have bipartisan support, the plan does provide a comprehensive outline of House Democratic leaders’ vision for an infrastructure package. Legislative text is expected in spring 2020. Find a full analysis of the framework here.

America’s counties should be recognized as major owners of transportation infrastructure in any potential package presented by Congress or the administration. Furthermore, federal funding levels and local authority should adequately reflect the county role in the nation’s transportation system. NACo believes that a user-pay approach should continue to be the cornerstone of federal transportation funding and that federal policy should provide counties the flexibility to use additional financing tools. Such policies include:

  • New, dedicated federal funding must be part of any new infrastructure package: While NACo supports public-private partnerships (P3’s) for project development, it is important that any infrastructure package provide funding to those parts of the country where private investment is not appropriate. A robust rural infrastructure plan must be part of any new legislation with the necessary funds to address their unique needs.
  • Preserving the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds: Though legislated as part of the tax code through the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, tax-exempt bonds are a critical tool for counties that facilitate the budgeting and financing of long-range investments in the infrastructure and facilities necessary to meet public demand. Without the tax-exemption, counties would pay more to raise capital, a cost that would ultimately be borne by the taxpayers through reduced spending on the roads and bridges for which counties are responsible, decreased economic development, higher taxes or higher user fees.
  • Promoting long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund: In order to maintain a robust infrastructure network, the Highway Trust Fund must remain solvent. NACo advocates for an “all tools in the toolbox” approach to accomplishing this, including increased usage of user-fees for infrastructure.
  • Providing an environment for innovative financing: NACo supports innovative financing mechanisms including, but not limited to, qualified tax credit bonds; infrastructure banks; the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA); and public-private partnerships that would allow local governments and transportation authorities, such as counties, to leverage federal financing for capital projects.
  • Streamlining the federal permit process: NACo supports streamlining the federal permitting process, which can help reduce project costs and delays resulting from duplicative reviews and procedures.

KEY TALKING POINTS

Counties should be recognized as major owners of transportation infrastructure in any potential package presented to Congress. Key funding and financing measures must include the following:

  • Dedicated funding for locally-owned infrastructure.
  • Preservation of tax-exempt status of municipal bonds.
  • Streamlining of the federal permit process.
  • Policies to provide an environment for innovative financing.
  • Bringing long-term certainty and solvency to the federal Highway Trust Fund.

 

For further information, contact: Jessica Jennings at 202.942.4264 or jjennings@naco.org