House infrastructure plan will provide a boost to airports

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House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio plans to introduce an outline for proposed national infrastructure legislation as early as Tuesday that will include a surface transportation reauthorization and an increase in airport Passenger Facility Charges.

Kathy Dedrick, the committee’s staff director, told the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Thursday that the proposal will be “transformative,” provide more funding and provide a “path toward zero emissions.”

“We are trying to write a bill that really addresses climate change for the first time when we are talking about transportation,” she said.

Dedrick spoke at a mayoral roundtable discussion on what the federal government can do to help meet the infrastructure needs of cities.

Eugene (Ore.) Mayor Lucy Vinis praised the work that DeFazio and his committee are doing to include climate change provisions in the legislation they will consider this year.

“As a member of the climate mayors steering committee I am excited to see federal policy aligned with the work mayors have prioritized for many years,” said Vinis. “Our climate future is inextricably linked to increased federal investment.”

Beaverton (Ore.) Mayor Dennis Doyle, a member of the USCM task force on ports and exports, said the positive news coming from Washington this year includes a provision in the current 2020 federal budget that calls for using 91.5% of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund annual revenue.

The House has passed legislation that also would clear the way for spending the $9.5 billion surplus in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that is awaiting consideration by the Senate.

Doyle said passage of that legislation would ensure federal spending of $34 billion over 10 years for harbor maintenance.

The House Ways and Means Committee has a meeting scheduled for Wednesday morning to begin discussion on how to finance other infrastructure improvements.

The House Transportation Committee faces a Sept. 30 deadline for reauthorizing surface transportation programs funded through the Highway Trust Fund. The committee also plans to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act this year.

Dedrick said DeFazio is “very interested” in allowing airports to increase their Passenger Facility Charges.

Earlier this month a Rand Corp. report mandated under the 2018 Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization was released. It recommended increasing the PFC ceiling to $7.50 from the current $4.50.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock of the USCM task force on aviation suggested Congress should approve a pilot project that would exempt the nation’s 20 largest airports from any limit on their PFCs. In return, those airports would forgo 100% of their federal Airport Improvement Program grants for redistribution among medium-sized to smaller airports for capital programs.

“As a nation, we are losing ground in terms of the modernization of our airports,” said Hancock, noting that a $1 increase in Denver’s PFC “would provide $35 million.”

Hancock said in an interview that he had not yet seen the Rand report. “Any way we can address the modernization needs of these airports will be important,” he said. “I kind of like the strategy of allowing the larger airports the autonomy to decide on how or when to raise their own PFCs. They are not going to price themselves out of the market and they’ll remain competitive, so let them make investments.”

About 31% of the revenue raised from PFCs is used for debt service on bonds that have been issued for capital improvements, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

PFC revenues are heavily used for land-side projects, such as terminals and transit systems on airport property, and for interest payments.

Cities spend $125 billion and receive only $2 billion from the federal government for drinking water and sewage infrastructure. “We are looking for a major investment from the federal government that will allow us to address what are serious issues of facility maintenance as well as the mandates that we are required all confronted with,” said Mayor David Berger of Lima, Ohio.

“We don’t think the federal government is doing enough with both wastewater and drinking water,” agreed Dedrick, noting that a reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Funds has been approved by the committee and is awaiting a floor vote.

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Infrastructure Airport revenue bonds Highway trust fund Water bonds USCM Washington DC