EAST ALTON — U.S. representatives Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, hailed a U.S. House bill they both helped pass that would drastically cut the red tape now blamed for slowing improvements on America's waterways, including the Mississippi River.
Addressing an audience at the Jerry F. Costello Confluence Field Station, located adjacent to the Mississippi River, Enyart said, "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have the authority to move on critical investments and ease the backlog on crucial projects."
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act, or WRRDA, still has to pass through the U.S. Senate, but Enyart predicted it will be signed into law very soon.
The bill passed the U.S. House 417 to 3 on Wednesday.
Davis, alluding to the partisan rancor that has beset Congress in recent weeks, called the passage of WRRDA "a great day for us and shows we can actually work together to get things done."
The version of WRRDA that passed the House is an authorization bill that provides a framework and a system for prioritizing infrastructure improvements on the region's rivers, including locks, dams and levees.
But the measure lacks funding. And in an era when federal lawmakers are keen to cut the nation's deficit, the related questions of how to fund WRRDA, and for how much, still await an answer, according to Paul Rohde, vice president of the Midwest area for the Waterways Council Inc.
Traditionally capital river improvements have paid for with a mix of federal taxes and from a trust fund whose income comes from taxes on businesses that use the waterways.
But the trust fund has been spent down, meaning that "We got to recapitalize that trust fund," Rohde said. "This bill does not touch that."
Enyart agreed that finding the money to pay for the improvements WRRDA authorizes will be a tough game to play.
"But Congressman Davis and I are going to keep working," he said. "It's a two-step process. It's like your household budget. You sometimes decide you got to have a new car and then you figure out how to pay for it. That's sort of what we've done here."
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at email@example.com or 618-239-2533.