Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 22, 2014

Discretionary funding: Several positives in Omnibus bill

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — We’ve been hard pressed to say much of anything good about Congress as of late. And with public opinion polls suggesting record low approval ratings for lawmakers in Washington, a good number of Americans apparently feel the same. But the Fiscal Year 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill passed last week by the U.S. Senate and earlier this month by the U.S. House of Representatives does contain a number of positives that are worth taking note of. It also contains other appropriations that local leaders must be ready and willing to fight for.

For example, the budget bill adds an additional $100 million to the pool of so-called TIGER grants for high-priority transportation infrastructure projects. That increases the pool of federal highway funds to $600 million. Two years ago, the Coalfields Expressway was awarded a $5 million TIGER, or Transportation’s Investment Generating Economic Recovery, grant. However, a $20 million application requested for the King Coal Highway project in Mercer County was denied.

Local supporters of both the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway should begin taking steps now to prepare for future TIGER grant applications and another round of federal funding awards. In the absence of a new long-term federal highway bill, the TIGER grants are the region’s best chance at urgently needed federal dollars to jump start these two future four-lane corridors.

The 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill also includes $562 million to support clean coal technology projects and a $130 million increase in federal funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, according to a joint statement last week by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

The LIEP program serves as a critical lifeline for many low-income families in the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia who need help with home heating during the winter months.

In terms of clean coal technology, the funding package puts in place a number of provisions that are crucial to West Virginia, including projects in Clarksburg and other communities that will create jobs, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory that will help secure a future for clean coal research, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., added last week.

But a number of things that should have been included in the federal budget bill were ultimately scrapped as part of the surprise bipartisan negotiations. For example, a common sense push by Republican lawmakers to include new restrictions in the budget bill as it relates to the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions was dropped from the final measure.

The bipartisan budget deal will pay for the operations of the federal government through October. It comes as lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle face difficult re-election prospects this fall when voters determine control of both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

In light of this short-term bipartisan agreement, we would like to think that lawmakers have finally learned how to work together again. But in all reality they are most likely simply afraid of being voted out of office this fall.