Update from Washington, D.C.
White House, Bipartisan Group of Senators Reach Infrastructure Deal; Interior Department Releases FY 2021 PILT Funds; Feinstein, Padilla Call on California Utility Companies to Detail Wildfire, Power Shutoff Plans
June 24, 2021
White House, Bipartisan Group of Senators Reach Infrastructure Deal
Earlier today, President Joe Biden announced that he had reached an agreement with a bipartisan group of senators on an infrastructure package. While full details of the legislative framework are not yet known, the deal calls for $559 billion in new spending for a total of $1.2 trillion over eight years. The framework focuses on “core” infrastructure categories, including roads and bridges, public transit, passenger and freight rail, and broadband.
In announcing the deal, the president acknowledged that the package does not include components of his American Families Plan, which calls for $1.8 trillion in investments and tax credits for working families. Biden indicated, however, that he will be working with congressional Democrats to develop and advance via the budget reconciliation process a broader spending measure that funds non-traditional infrastructure priorities. Notably, the reconciliation process would allow Senate Democrats to pass such a bill on a simple majority vote.
For her part, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) welcomed the news of the deal between the White House and key senators, though indicated that the House will not vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate passes a broader package of Democratic spending priorities. The speaker’s announcement is seen as an attempt to assure progressives that action on a traditional infrastructure bill will not undercut efforts to advance the president’s American Families Plan. It should be noted that the House is still expected to vote next week on a hybrid surface transportation-water infrastructure package, which is expected to be cleared along party lines.
In other developments this week, the House approved legislation (HR 1374) that would assist states with funding for security plans to protect energy infrastructure from cyberattacks and physical threats. The Enhancing State Energy Security Planning and Emergency Preparedness Act would authorize $90 million annually through fiscal year 2026 for this purpose. In addition, the chamber cleared a separate measure (HR 2922) on June 23 that would codify the Justice Department’s Elder Justice Initiative. The initiative coordinates efforts to combat elder abuse, neglect, and financial fraud and scams that target seniors. HR 2922 would also make permanent a hotline to support elder fraud victims and provide referrals to appropriate law enforcement.
Across Capitol Hill, the Senate this week confirmed several of President Biden’s nominees, including Robin Carnahan to lead the General Services Administration, Chris Fonzone to be General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Kiran Ahuja to be Director of the Office of Personnel Management.
The chamber also failed to move forward with consideration of a comprehensive voting rights bill (S 1) after a Republican filibuster. The legislation – known as the For the People Act – has been a high priority for Democrats, particularly amid efforts by GOP-dominated state legislatures to enact more restrictive voting laws. Among other things, it would set national standards for election laws, including no-excuse-needed mail-in voting and automatic voter registration, require new campaign finance disclosures and impose new ethics provisions for all three branches of the federal government.
Interior Department Releases FY 2021 PILT Funds
Earlier today, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that her department will distribute more than $529 million (up from $517 million last year) to over 1,900 local governments under the Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program. In all, 57 California counties are set to receive nearly $56 million this year, up from $54.6 million in fiscal year 2020. The press release from the Department of the Interior can be found here, and a full list of payments to counties can be accessed here.
PILT payments to counties help offset losses in tax revenues due to the presence of tax-exempt federal land in their jurisdictions. The funding allows counties to provide essential public services on these lands, including solid waste disposal, law enforcement, search and rescue operations, environmental compliance, firefighting, and other important community services.
Looking ahead, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to consider its fiscal year 2022 spending bill on June 28. While the details of the measure have not yet been released, it’s expected to include an additional year of funding for the program. For its part, CSAC continues to urge members of the California congressional delegation to make PILT a top budgetary priority.
Feinstein, Padilla Call on California Utility Companies to Detail Wildfire, Power Shutoff Plans
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) recently called on California’s three largest utility companies – Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation (PG&E), Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric – to provide information on their plans for the 2021 wildfire season, in particular how the companies plan to handle power shutoffs during high-wind events. The full text of the letter to PG&E is available here, the letter to Southern California Edison is available here, and the letter to San Diego Gas and Electric is available here.