The “CRomnibus” that the president signed combined two legislative measures: an omnibus appropriations bill that allowed Congress to lump together a bunch of federal budgets instead of voting on them separately, and a continuing resolution that gave the country “permission” to continue spending at 2014 budget levels even after the fiscal year ended on Sept. 30, 2014.
Even though $60 million was cut from EPA's budget and staffing levels are their lowest since 1989, the 2015 federal budget provides the full $2.2 million authorized by the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 to set up a new competitive loan program for water and sewer projects. Theoretically, the agency will devise a subsidy model for the White House Office of Management and Budget to approve, develop an application process, physically create office space and hire employees, etc., in time to accept the five-year pilot program’s first applications in fall 2015.
“This is kind of a miracle for a continuing resolution,” says American Water Works Association Deputy Executive Director Tom Curtis. “But Congress heard us and that gives us hope and confidence that they’ll fund the full amount for projects in 2016."
That amount -- $25 million -- is expected to be leveraged 10:1 to provide $250 million in loans at low U.S. Treasury rates. The $25 million funds a reserve to protect the federal government's investment in the event an applicant defaults, a highly unlikely event for a rate-based water or sewer utility.
As for other public works budgets …
U.S. TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT
- Federal Highway Administration: $41 billion (same as 2014 and includes $500 million for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) competitive grants for state and local road, transit, port, and railroad construction projects)
- Aviation: $15.75 billion ($17 million less than 2014)
- Rail: $1.6 billion ($23 million more than 2014)
- Transit: $13 billion ($141 million more than 2014)
U.S. OFFICE OF HOUSING and URBAN DEVELOPMENT
Community Development Block Grant formula program for affordable housing and infrastructure development: $3 billion ($30 million less than 2014)
U.S. ENVIROMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
At $8.1 billion, the agency’s funding’s has fallen 21% since 2010. Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds: $2.35 billion
U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS
At $5.5 billion, the agency’s got $15 million more than in 2014 and can approve 10 new studies and four new construction projects. One fly in the ointment: the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is $95 million short of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 target.
U.S. AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT
$2.4 billion for rural development programs including $859 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which manages a new program authorized by the 2014 farm bill. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) encourages farmers to partner with non-agricultural entities, such as wastewater utilities and municipal stormwater agencies, on reducing nutrient water pollution.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
Funding frozen at 2014 levels until Feb. 27, 2015.