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Baldwin & Johnson Split Votes on Water Infrastructure Bill
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 05/23/2014

A bill that authorizes funding to renew the nation's locks and dams has now passed both houses of Congress. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which aims to strengthen America's waterways and ports and make critical investments in the nation's infrastructure. The House okayed the same measure on Tuesday.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates implementing the legislation will cost about $5.5 billion over the next four years. It includes scores of individual projects, including several related to Wisconsin.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin's office says the package will benefit the Neenah Foundry plant in Neenah, which makes drinking and wastewater infrastructure accessories and products. It also allows the City of Milwaukee to move forward on restoring the Burnham Canal and transforming it into a wetland. Other funds will go toward funding a Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be shared by Duluth and Superior, Green Bay and Milwaukee.

"In order for us to grow the economy and create jobs we need to make sure we build a 21st century Wisconsin infrastructure that includes renewing our commitment to our ports, locks and dams," said Baldwin, who supported the bill. "Rebuilding our water infrastructure will not only put people to work and create jobs, it will provide businesses with the quality infrastructure they need to move their goods to market."

Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Jim Holte says his group is pleased with the bill's passage because it encourages the sustainability of Wisconsin's agricultural export programs.

"Given our geographical location, upgrading the Mississippi River's lock and dam system and ports in the Great Lakes will allow Wisconsin farm families to market their products throughout the country and around the world," Holte said in a statement. "The port improvements and upgrades to our aging lock and dam system are desperately needed. All Wisconsin farm families will benefit when this investment in our nation's transportation infrastructure finally becomes a reality."

Meanwhile, only seven Senators voted against the legislation, including Wisconsin's Ron Johnson. He says there are a number of provisions in the bill that he liked, but said since the entire draft was lacked with 'adequate reform and an effective prioritization process' he could not support it.

"The important provisions did not outweigh the bill's serious flaws," Sen. Johnson said. "In addition to increasing government spending far in excess of the deal that President Obama and Congress agreed to in December, the bill did not adequately reform a broken system that fails to effectively prioritize federal spending and Army Corps of Engineers projects."

In addition, the bill establishes two new programs to finance water infrastructure including the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority pilot project to provide credit assistance to state or local governments, agencies, tribal government as well as corporations and partnerships for drinking water, wastewater, and other water resource infrastructure projects.

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