But the budget request has minus signs, too. For example, Environmental Protection Agency aid to state revolving funds (SRFs) to finance wastewater-treatment and drinking-water projects would be sliced by a combined 20%, to $1.9 billion.
“The SRF funds really got whacked,” says Bill Hillman, National Utility Contractors Association CEO. With construction’s unemployment rate still in double digits, the proposed cut is “a bad move at the wrong time,” Hillman says.
In another blow, Agriculture Dept. grants and loans for rural water and wastewater projects, would be cut 40%, to $304 million.
Among other environmental accounts, funds for Dept. of Energy cleanup of former nuclear weapons plants would be pared 5%, to $4.85 billion.
Even though funding for the latest defense base closure round is near its end, military construction would rise about 5%, to $9.7 billion in the president's proposal. Within that total, the Air Force FY14 construction request is up sharply, to more than $1.1 billion, compared with 2013 appropriations of $323 million. On the other hand, Army construction would fall 34%, to $1.1 billion.
Fiscal Debate Heats Up
Over all, “I would call [the budget] a mixed bag,” says Sean O’Neill, Associated General Contractors director of congressional relations for infrastructure advancement. “It’s a proposal. We’ll see what the coming weeks and months hold for the budget and appropriations process.”
The budget, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) observed, was delivered more than two months late. Some factors behind the delay were the protracted debate concerning the fiscal cliff, the sequester and uncertainty until late March over spending levels for the rest of the current fiscal year.
The Obama 2014 budget now enters a crowded fiscal arena that also includes House and Senate talks about reconciling very different budget blueprints that each chamber recently approved. Also under way are hearings by congressional appropriators, who will fill in the details of those general blueprints by specifying amounts for each account.
The goal is to have final line-item numbers in place by Oct. 1, when fiscal 2014 begins. But if recent history is any guide, Congress again may turn to further part-year stopgap continuing resolutions as that date approaches.