New House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.) first major legislative accomplishment is within sight as meetings commence between conferees appointed to negotiate differences between the House and Senate surface transportation reauthorization bills.
Lawmakers and lobbyists alike anticipate a fairly quick conference agreement to reconcile the Senate-passed DRIVE Act and the House-approved Surface Transportation Reauthorization & Reform (STRR) Act. The STRR Act sailed through the full House in early November following unanimous approval by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.
Both the STRR Act and the DRIVE Act guarantee at least three-years of close to flat funding and include provisions to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. The STRR Act also contains a construction industry supported provision that increases the air mile radius from 50 to 75 miles for the transportation of construction materials and equipment to satisfy the 24-hour reset period under federal hours of service rules.
Additionally, the Senate’s DRIVE Act reverses a ban on using tax-exempt financing (such as private activity bonds) to partially fund water projects that also receive Water Infrastructure Financing & Innovation Authority (WIFIA) assistance. Since WIFIA loans are only able to fund up to 49 percent of a project, local communities are left with a significant barrier to acquiring the remainder of the financing, hindering the program’s usefulness in providing capital to rebuild the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure.
The fate of the WIFIA modification, the hours of service provision, the overall funding levels and the reauthorization’s duration rest in the hands of the conference committee. Expect a final agreement prior to Dec. 4 as Congress must turn its attention to an omnibus government funding package after a two-year budget deal before Dec. 11. Use AEDaction.org to weigh-in with your lawmakers to urge immediate action to finalize a multiyear highway bill.
Meanwhile, AED remains focused on advocating for reinstatement of expired capital investment incentives. With House Ways & Means Committee leadership settled and the panel’s new Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) firmly in place, tax extenders chatter is increasing. Conventional wisdom remains that lawmakers will ink a final deal before year’s end to reinstate and possibly extend all expired business tax provisions, including higher Sec. 179 levels and 50 percent bonus depreciation.
However slow and long overdue, Congress is making progress on AED’s top policy priorities. Unfortunately, on Nov. 6, President Obama announced his long-anticipated Keystone XL pipeline permit rejection, indefinitely postponing the cross-border project. Pending for over seven years, the pipeline’s approval was a top priority for AED and comes on the heels of the Conservative Party’s defeat in October’s Canadian elections. New Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ascension and its implication for AED members was detailed during the association’s 2015 Ottawa Briefing.
Threats and opportunities abound on Capitol Hill and in Ottawa. As 2015 wraps up, AED is positioning itself to chalk up more legislative accomplishments while elevating the equipment distribution industry’s voice in the political process. Stay tuned to AED’s Washington Office for more information to learn how you can get involved and be sure to register for AED Summit 2016 in Washington, D.C., where U.S. and Canadian policy issues will be front and center.