Water utilities and advocates are celebrating a huge step forward for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act after Congress passed legislation last night that lifts a ban on the use of tax-exempt bonds with WIFIA loans.
As President Obama prepared to sign the bill today, the American Water Works Association is already urging Congress to appropriate funds to allow WIFIA to begin addressing America’s large water infrastructure challenge.
“By removing the ban on using tax-exempt bonds with WIFIA loans, Congress has freed WIFIA to do its important work in addressing America’s enormous water infrastructure challenge,” said AWWA CEO David LaFrance. “We now urge Congress to move swiftly to appropriate the necessary funds for WIFIA to do its important work.”
Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, who was among the leading proponents for WIFIA’s passage and the needed correction, acknowledged the importance of the change from the House floor prior to Thursday’s vote on transportation legislation that carried the WIFIA provision. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Penn., chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, were also key in getting the WIFIA fix included in the transportation bill.
“I am pleased to see a provision included that supplements the funding of public water infrastructure,” said Gibbs, chair of the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. “Municipalities across the country are dealing with expensive and necessary improvements to public water systems. The ability to combine WIFIA funding with tax-exempt bonds gives cities and counties the ability to affordably address their public health needs.”
The Senate voted in favor of the legislation later in the evening Thursday, with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., ranking minority member for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, championing the WIFIA fix.
Enacted in 2014 as part of the Water Resources and Reform Development Act, WIFIA will provide low-interest federal loans for up to 49% of the costs for large drinking water, wastewater, stormwater and water reuse projects. However, as written, the law prohibited tax-exempt bonds from funding the remaining 51% of a project, taking away the most cost-effective tool for communities that seek WIFIA loans.
AWWA worked alongside many water sector organizations for the removal of the ban on tax-exempt bonds. At the March Water Matters! Fly-In, water utility leaders from throughout the United States took part in more than 400 meetings with Congressional leaders and staff on the issue, urging them to “Free WIFIA” from the budgetary red tape.
Members of AWWA, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the Water Environment Federation and other water advocates are now urging Congress to provide funding for both WIFIA loans and State Revolving Fund programs in fiscal year 2016, which began Oct. 1.
“The sooner WIFIA is making loans for large water projects, the better,” LaFrance said. “AWWA’s recent Buried No Longer report shows America needs to invest more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to repair and expand drinking water infrastructure alone. Deferring this work only makes it more expensive. We urge Congress to put WIFIA to work now to protect public health and fix our most critical national infrastructure.
“In addition to the elected leaders who worked for WIFIA’s passage and improvement, AWWA is grateful to our 50,000 members, our fellow water sector organizations, and many others with an interest in protecting public health and the environment and assuring affordable water service,” LaFrance added. “Without the efforts of everyone involved, this important accomplishment would not be possible.”
About American Water Works Association
Established in 1881, the American Water Works Association is the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water, the world’s most important resource. With approximately 50,000 members, AWWA provides solutions to improve public health, protect the environment, strengthen the economy and enhance our quality of life.