WASHINGTON - Bills to authorize multi-year funding for water infrastructure and the Federal Aviation Administration are headed to the full House after a vote yesterday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approving the measures, despite some complaints by Republicans.

The committee also approved guidance to the House Budget Committee, slamming President Obama's proposal to change transportation funding so that it would be subject to the annual appropriations process.

The committee's water bill proposes $13.8 billion in federal grants over five years to capitalize clean water state revolving funds, which states can use to make low-interest loans to localities for certain infrastructure projects. The bill would add to states' financing authority by allowing them to make negative-interest loans or forgive loan principal - in effect, providing grants to localities.

That funding would be in addition to $4 billion that was provided in the stimulus act for clean water SRFs. The funding levels would be similar to the request for clean water SRFs included in Obama's fiscal 2010 budget outline, unveiled last week. The $13.8 billion approved by the committee would, however, be roughly equivalent to just 8% of all money spent by states and localities on wastewater infrastructure since 1972.

The legislation nearly hit a snag when Republicans, including ranking minority member Rep. John Mica of Florida, bristled against its prevailing-wage provision for laborers working on projects. But an amendment to remove the provision was withdrawn.

In addition to the clean water SRFs, the bill would authorize about $2 billion over five years for other water programs, such as grants to states and municipalities to manage sewer overflows.

The measure now goes to the full House for consideration, although a vote was not scheduled as of yesterday.

In addition to the water bill, the committee voted to approve a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that would set funding authority for the FAA and airport programs between fiscal years 2009 and 2012.

The bill would authorize $70 billion for the FAA's capital programs during that time, and furnish the airport improvement program with $16.2 billion in authorizations. The AIP provides grants that issuers sometimes use to back tax-exempt debt but more often use to supplement other funding sources such as bond revenues.

The bill also would increase the cap on passenger facilities charges to $7 from $4.50. The PFCs are used mostly by larger airports to repay bonds. The committee found that the cap increase would generate $1.1 billion more revenue for airports per year.

Mostly Republican opposition has prevented the passage of a multi-year FAA reauthorization since September 2007, and the aviation administration and airport funding programs have been running on stopgap measures.

Industry stakeholders and committee chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., say the stopgap funding has created uncertainty in airports' long-term capital planning processes.

"I don't want airports to have a stop-and-go facing them on whether funding will be available," Oberstar said during the meeting.

Oberstar and the committee also railed against the uncertainty posed by an Obama administration proposal, during committee consideration of a document estimating and opining on the effects of the president's proposed fiscal 2010 budget on infrastructure programs. The president's budget plan would eliminate multi-year contract authority from highway, transit, highway safety, and airport grant programs, and instead turn the programs' funding over to a year-by-year appropriations process.

Actual funding for the programs "would drop by one-half, 50%, on Oct 1," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. "That means we're gonna lose more jobs than might have been created by the stimulus, in one day."

"What state is going to be able to obligate itself to an ambitious three- or five-year project" without multi-year funding assurance from federal grant programs, he asked.

DeFazio likened the drafters of the budget provision to "trolls under the bridge" and said he hoped "that this is just some of the trolls that haven't been routed out over the past few years, and it doesn't reflect any high-level thinking in the Obama administration."

The committee approved the document advising congressional budget writers to reject the controversial proposal. The document will now be transmitted to the House Budget Committee.

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