2024 Opens With Second Session & Elections Ahead

U.S. Capitol in winter
Photo: Architect of the Capitol

By Zack Perconti

January marked the opening of the second session of the 118th Congress, and what is sure to be a busy sprint to begin our 2024 advocacy agenda. This year, amid a host of other issues, NUCA will be focusing on defending and strengthening federal investment in water and other underground infrastructure, fighting for sensible permitting reforms and damage prevention legislation, working with Congress to advance critical workforce development legislation, and as always pursuing a pro-infrastructure and pro-business agenda

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NUCA continues to actively fight to preserve and increase funding for critical water infrastructure programs, such as the two EPA State Revolving Funds we depend on for federal water and wastewater project resources. Over the course of the FY2024 appropriations process, our association has been a consistent voice for maintaining federal support for these successful programs.

At press time, Congress has still yet to pass most of the FY2024 appropriations bills, but an agreement on topline spending numbers between House Republican leadership and Democrats seems to be holding – paving the way for a flat spending on water infrastructure between 2023 and 2024. While our infrastructure desperately needs a funding increase in this Congress – especially with federal demands to accelerate lead service line replacement and other regulatory burdens – avoiding a proposed large cut is a massive victory. And it is worth noting that in the House Interior-Environment appropriations bill that contained the $2 billion in program cuts, NUCA helped push through three successful but only symbolic amendments that recognized the House’s proposed cuts to water funding were not sustainable.

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Congressional leadership is likely to stave off a government shutdown with yet another Continuing Resolution – this time moving the deadlines to March 1 and March 8 – and all but guaranteeing some degree of overlap between FY2024 and FY2025 appropriations work. Should Congress fail to pass all FY2024 appropriations bills by April 30, it will trigger automatic spending cuts under the terms of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023. NUCA will be active early in the FY2025 appropriations process to stress the importance of robust funding for water and other underground infrastructure.

As the 118th Congress second session gets underway, other critical deadlines and legislation loom ahead. Pipeline Safety and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) re-authorization under the PIPES Act (H.R. 6494) and its associated NUCA-supported damage prevention language still lags far behind its previous expiration date of Sept. 30, 2023. This critical piece of legislation, if passed in its current form, will support our advocacy efforts to improve dig law in the states, and is a major priority for NUCA National in early 2024.

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Meanwhile, the Senate must act on its version of FAA airport reauthorization (S. 1939) to meet the next authorization deadline set for March 8. The FAA bill has significant funding in the House version for airport construction, opening more utility work at airports. The Senate bill must first pass out of committee before the full Senate can vote on it, and then face a conference committee to resolve differences. Congress will need to move swiftly to address these key issues before election 2024 begins to pull them away later this spring.

NUCA is also looking ahead this session to major workforce development legislation, including the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), various bills pertaining to the expansion of Pell Grant eligibility to short-term vocational training programs, and the potential reauthorization of the billion-dollar Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act to support our nation’s trade schools. However, at the same time, with our coalition allies, we will continue to push back against harmful regulatory overreach from the Biden Administration’s U.S. Dept. of Labor and associated agencies, including the OSHA walkaround rule, changes to the independent contractor rule, and project-labor agreement mandates.

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In 2024, our association will continue to be a resource for Congress and the Administration as they work to implement historic funding provided by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other recent legislation. As a part of that legislation’s implementation, NUCA has worked with the White House and agencies to gather and submit information on the state of the supply chain to ensure that materials contractors need for projects continue to be available, and that manufacturers, importers, and distributors have the clarity they need to comply with Build America, Buy America Act (BABAA) and other domestic preference requirements for federal infrastructure projects. Thanks in part to comments from NUCA and work by our members, agencies have begun issuing key guidance that follows our recommendations providing all parties with some of the clarity and flexibility they need. Supply chain will remain a key focus for us this year as more of the federal infrastructure dollars translate into projects, including vast sums of broadband funding from the $42.5B Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program.

NUCA National has also made it a priority this year to better support our member advocacy at the state and local level. Last year, we officially formed the State and Local Government Affairs Committee to provide a forum for discussion and coordination for issues affecting NUCA chapters and members away from Capitol Hill, and to help chapters strengthen and grow their own advocacy programs. If you have an issue that is affecting you at the state level, please do not hesitate to ask your chapter and see how National can help!

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Last, but not least, it is impossible to talk about 2024 without mentioning the upcoming November elections. NUCA is focusing closely on the race for Congress, with NUCA-PAC, the utility construction industry’s political action committee, closely evaluating pro-construction, pro-business, and pro-infrastructure candidates to possibly support. The outcome of the Congressional elections will directly shape our association’s agenda for the 119th Congress (2025-26) and together with our members we will work to elect a Congress that will build on the success of the past few years.

In the meantime, as we look ahead to the campaign season, our best odds for legislative success will be in the first half of 2024 – before Congress largely pivots to the campaign trail shortly after our Washington Summit.

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The May 22-24 Washington Summit will be the best opportunity we have to directly influence lawmakers before the campaign season takes off in summer 2024. Registration is now open at www.wedigamerica.org, and we hope to see you in Washington, D.C., this spring!

Zack Perconti is the Vice President of NUCA Government Affairs. Tags: