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Local Infrastructure Projects: What Will the Feds Fund?

A new administration in the White House means a new set of priorities for Congress.  And despite partisan polarization, growing consensus suggests that one of those priorities will be a dramatic federal investment in modernizing infrastructure. 

Over the next few years, we can expect new federal funding for roads, rail, ports, parks renewable energy projects, schools, colleges, universities, health care facilities and cultural attractions.  The investment could provide a short-term economic stimulus.  It could also reduce historic rates of unemployment and mitigate climate change through green energy.

In some ways, the effort will be reminiscent of the New Deal, the 1930s initiative spearheaded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  And as members of Congress determine which infrastructure projects take priority, another element of past policymaking is also poised to resurface: the “earmark.”  

Congressionally directed spending, or “earmarking,” allows members of Congress to direct a portion of overall spending to beneficiaries in their own district or state.  Each member of Congress can propose a few worthy initiatives for consideration in the appropriations process.  If included, those projects receive funding directly. 

Examples include:

  • A transportation facility linking commuter rail with local bus service
  • A footbridge over a busy highway to enhance bike routes
  • Laboratory equipment for a green energy center at a community college
  • The construction of a new county public health facility for underserved populations

Who benefits? Municipalities, hospitals and health clinics, universities and colleges, and nonprofit organizations, among others. In the past, earmarks have provided the first federal dollars for AIDS research, supported educational programs for underserved communities, furthered cancer research and funded the replacement of unsafe bridges.

Incoming House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has already stated that she will restore earmarks, though under a new process to address past concerns. Congressional leaders now recognize that earmarks help build support for legislation because rank-and-file members of Congress have a say in which projects in their communities receive federal dollars. 

So, where to start? Local leaders that need federal support for their community’s priorities should seek insight from those with expertise on congressional appropriations. Consider partnering with an established Washington firm, such as Woodberry Associates, whose professionals have a proven track record in helping local institutions secure congressionally directed spending.