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Public Statements

Water Quality Financing Act of 2007

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

WATER QUALITY FINANCING ACT OF 2007

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Mr. BAKER. Madam Chairman, at this time I claim 2 minutes.

Madam Chairman, I wish to express my appreciation to the gentlelady and to the Chair for their diligent work in this area. Certainly, it is an arena in which there is a clear and established, well identified need for which there are too few resources available. It is also a problem which will require many, many years of dedicated work to ensure the delivery of a safe water infrastructure in the years ahead.

I, regretfully, have observed that the debate which will occur over the establishment of Davis-Bacon in this legislation is the one point around which great controversy has emerged.

In my own State, I can speak with authority as to our circumstance. Pursuant to the devastation of Katrina and Rita, we find our communities struggling to get back on their feet, and our infrastructure has been badly damaged. Water systems, pumping stations, sewage systems have been destroyed; and it will take, unfortunately, years for many communities to attain the status that they once had prior to the storms' impact.

It is clear to us that, although the American people and this Congress have been very generous to our State in making resources available, those resources are going to be stretched to their maximum extent possible; and yet we still have incredible needs that will yet be unmet. For this reason, we feel, at least in the view of our own State's interest, that the application of the Davis-Bacon requirement, artificially increasing the cost of construction of these important infrastructure projects, will only ensure that we are years longer in achieving the necessary recovery.

To state it quite simply, to spend more and accomplish less is not something we in Louisiana are comfortable in pursuing. For that reason, I join with my ranking Member, Mr. Mica, in expressing grave concerns over the inclusion of Davis-Bacon.

In the normal operative circumstance, when funds are made available from the State revolving account to a State for a particular project, Davis-Bacon has applied to that first-round funding. This bill will now make Davis-Bacon provisions extend to all subsequent utilizations of those funds, and that is the expansion to which we strongly object.

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Mr. BAKER. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I think it is important to understand the operative nature of the State Revolving Fund and the results of the legislation before us on that operation of the fund.

If a community in Florida, the ranking member's State, which has no prevailing Davis-Bacon requirement, borrows money from the revolving fund, there is a match associated with that which is State dollars. There is also interest that accrues on that loan. When the State repays the loan, the State repays the interest, that comes back into the revolving loan account.

Each year, as the Federal funds are made available, assume $500 million would be made available of Federal resources for the revolving fund account, only that $500 million under current rule would be subject to Davis-Bacon application. All of the repayment made by the State of Florida, including the interest, would be exempt from the applicability of a Davis-Bacon requirement.

``For the first time,'' and I read from the statement of administration policy, the White House statement on the matter, ``For the first time ever, projects financed by funds contributed solely by States and moneys repaid to the State Revolving Fund will be subject to Davis-Bacon requirements.''

So let there be no mistake about this, this is not merely voting to sustain Davis-Bacon as we currently know it. This is to expand the requirement for State-generated funds into States that have no Davis-Bacon requirement at the State level, and it will diminish those States' abilities to meet their identified water infrastructure needs. That is why this debate is occurring. It is not just about whether big business or big labor or the beneficiaries of some legislative initiative. This is about the real world in back home America, and are we going to provide the resources to help small communities get their water systems in decent and safe operating condition? We all agree that is a worthwhile goal.

The question is: How do we want to achieve it?

Do we want to constrain a free market system with arbitrary Washington rules that artificially drive up prices and give taxpayers less? Most of us think that is not advisable.

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Mr. BAKER. Madam Chairman, I yield myself the remainder of the time.

I wish to express sincere and deep appreciation to the gentlewoman who is the Chair of the Water Resources Subcommittee and, of course, to the distinguished chairman of the full committee, Mr. Oberstar. In thinking back over my tenure on the committee, it really is hard to remember a time when there has been significant partisan difference. It truly is one of the committees of the House that works in a unified way and produces a consistent, unified voice.

We share the vision that America's infrastructure is the key to our Nation's economic future and that where infrastructure is damaged or inadequate, economies lag behind, employment is high, and circumstances are not good. So we really are joined here together in an effort to do what we believe is right and best for communities we represent.

In this one instance, we find ourselves on the opposite side of a policy which has, over time, divided this Congress, the requirement by government to tell those engaged in a business endeavor what you should pay your employees in meeting essential public need.

It is clear to me that in my home State, the economic dislocations because of the tragic storms is immense and widespread and felt deeply and unfortunately will be likely felt for many years to come. We all know that there aren't sufficient resources to solve every problem in every community and certainly not even in our own State. Despite the generosity of the American people and this Congress, there will be billions of dollars of unmet need.

The question, as we go to Dr. Boustany's district in southwest Louisiana to a small, small rural parish in Cameron, where there isn't even a municipality, where after the storm's terrible surge went across the land, you could stand on the northern edge of the parish and look all the way to the gulf coast and not see a structure standing. We don't have enough money to build it all back. We can't even tell people even when we are likely to build it back, but we are going to send some money, now in the form of a State revolving fund intended for the restructuring and rebuilding of critical water infrastructure.

What are we going to do with that $10? Are we going to artificially increase the cost of that project just to make it more difficult for rural Cameron parish to recover? I don't think we really want or intend to do that, but that is the consequence of this provision in this bill. It makes recovery more difficult. It will take recovery longer. It will cost more to build less.

We all pride ourselves in America on our strong free enterprise beliefs. Let's turn free enterprise loose. Let's let Louisiana rebuild. Let's do it in the most efficient and expeditious way possible. Let's strike Davis-Bacon provisions from this bill.

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Mr. BAKER. I claim the remaining time.

I certainly respect the chairman's knowledge and views of these matters and appreciate that on 95 percent of the issues before the committee, we are generally in unanimity.

On this particular point, I would like to bring the issue to that of the individual who is trying to rebuild their home in the difficult area of south Louisiana. Materials are short, workmen are hard to find. Do we really want to tell an individual trying to rebuild their personal home, you are going to have to meet a government wage rate in order to build this house or else you cannot build it? This is about government injecting itself into a free market process, all for no apparent reason that is clear to me.

It will make the compliance of the rules for the rural and lower income communities much more difficult to achieve. Compliance with the Davis-Bacon provisions is a difficult and cumbersome task.

And where we have low-income communities, where resources are greatly limited, we are now going to require additional regulatory burden and a higher wage rate that is artificial to further inhibit the ability of that community rebuild. We wouldn't contemplate having that set of requirements on the individual trying to rebuild their own home, but yet we are going to force that set of standards on communities across this Nation, even where States have no Davis-Bacon provisions at the State level at all. And that I think is the most troublesome aspect of the implementation of the proposal as constructed. Eighteen States have chosen not to require a Davis-Bacon implementation, and yet we here in the Congress by virtue of the State revolving infrastructure fund are going to require those States now to comply with these new standards. I hope Members will carefully consider the consequences of this amendment and vote for the Baker-King amendment.

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