McGOVERN, FRANK FIGHT FOR SEWER FUNDS
House Republicans Block Democratic Efforts to Increase Local Aid Program
Congressmen James McGovern and Barney Frank were sharply critical of actions last week by the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives to deeply cut the budget for a key source of funding for cities and towns struggling to meet the cost of sewer system upgrades. After bringing forward a bill that would drastically reduce the budget of an Environmental Protection Agency program that helps communities like Fall River and New Bedford pay for sewer improvements required by the Clean Water Act, the Republicans then engineered the defeat of two Democratic amendments, backed by McGovern and Frank, to raise the program's budget. The defeat of the two amendments leaves the Clean Water Act State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan program funded at a level nearly 40 percent lower than in 2004.
During debate on the 2006 EPA funding bill on May 19, Frank and McGovern joined the vast majority of House Democrats first in a procedural vote that would have paved the way for the House to consider an amendment to raise the SRF budget by nearly $500 million, and then in a separate vote to increase the SRF budget by $100 million. The Republican majority outvoted the Democrats on both proposals, winning the procedural vote 215 - 194 (and thus preventing the first SRF amendment from even being offered), and prevailing on the second amendment on a 235 - 186 tally. The money for the first amendment would have come from a reduction of approximately 1.5 percent from the tax cut scheduled for U.S. taxpayers earning more than $1 million. Funding for the second amendment would have been transferred from the State and Tribal Assistance Grant (STAG) program, a separate fund that provides cities and towns with direct grants, as opposed to loans, for sewer projects.
"This huge reduction in funding for the SRF is outrageous" Frank said. "The program has helped New Bedford and Fall River finance their sewer projects without the need for ruinous rate increases. If the funding figures in the House bill remain in effect it will be more difficult for the two cities to finance their projects. I would add that it is the Republican fiscal policies that have put us in this position. You can't push through huge tax increases in a time of war without cutting back on important domestic programs. The second amendment, which essentially presented a choice between two programs that benefit Fall River and New Bedford, is a perfect illustration of the impossible position the Republican budget policies have put us in. There should be an overall increase in the amount of money available for these important programs, rather than a wrestling match between two important programs that help serve the same purpose. I will continue doing all I can to work with Jim McGovern and my other Democratic colleagues to increase Federal sewer aid to municipal governments, and to fight against the Republican fiscal policies that are producing these cuts."
"These federal clean water programs are too important to be sacrificed in the name of more tax cuts for the wealthy - but that's exactly what's happening," Rep. McGovern said. "This issue is about priorities. Under the Republican leadership in Congress and the White House, millionaires continue to get their massive tax cuts while ratepayers in cities like Fall River and New Bedford that have benefited from federal clean water assistance are left with the bill. That's wrong. Barney Frank and I will continue to fight for the right priorities, including adequate federal funding for clean water for the people of Southeastern Massachusetts."
The SRF program provides low and in some cases zero interest loans to cities and towns throughout the country to help them defray the cost of wastewater treatment improvements in order to comply with the Clean Water Act. New Bedford and Fall River have borrowed tens of millions of dollars under this program.
The SRF has historically been funded each year at a level of approximately $1.35 billion annually. However, in a move opposed by Frank and McGovern, that total was cut to $1.09 billion for 2005, and is now slated to be reduced to $850 million under the House version of the 2006 EPA funding measure. This cut, if preserved in the final version of the bill, would reduce the Massachusetts SRF allocation from $36.9 million to $28.6 million (the State received over $45 million in 2004).
When the Republican controlled House Rules Committee refused to allow the $500 million amendment to be considered during debate on the EPA funding bill, the amendment's author - Rep. David Obey, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee - led the Democratic attempt to defeat the Rules Committee's plan for the bill. It was on this vote that the Republicans prevailed 215 - 194. Had the Democrats won the vote, the House would have then voted on the $500 million amendment. The $100 million amendment was offered later in the debate, also by Obey.
The Senate has not yet voted on the EPA funding bill, and the final figures for the SRF program will not be determined until this fall.