July 12, 2018
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, questioned Mr. Vicente Sarmiento, Director of the Orange County Water District; Mr. Brian Motyl, Assistant Director of Finance at DelDOT; and Dr. Doug Holtz-Eakin, President of the American Action Forum at an EPW hearing yesterday entitled “The Long-term Value to U.S. Taxpayers of Low-cost Federal Infrastructure Loans.”
Inhofe: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Sarmiento, in June of 2018 the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies wrote an article on the benefits of the WIFIA program and I’m going to quote from the article. It says that, “perhaps most importantly, WIFIA is designed to leverage a modest federal appropriation into a significant pot of available funds. To put it simply, WIFIA offers a tremendous bang for the buck in today's tight budget time.”
Now I fully agree with that and feel that leveraging is working, of course WIFIA is fairly new, but we've been using TIFIA for quite a while and it has been very successful. My question would be that, as you know that Senator Boozman's SRF WIN Act is within the WIFIA program. That being said, do you believe that programs like WIFIA and the SRF WIN Act offer a long-term value to the taxpayers? Now you've actually answered that—worded a little bit differently in your previous statement—but could you answer that for the record.
Sarmiento: I want to thank Senator Boozman for working with my Senator, Feinstein in California, and co-authoring that because for us, SRF is a valuable tool that we have as an opportunity to fund some of these vital programs. The unfortunate part about it in California is that the program is oversubscribed so to the extent we have other options and other alternatives and other tools in our toolbox. It’s always a good thing so we certainly believe that having more opportunities, having the ability to access, especially for some of our smaller agencies and for those that don’t have the capacity. We're blessed in the Orange County Water District, we are a very large agency, but we do have retailers and producers that work with us that don’t have as much capacity and have trouble bundling projects together so we certainly see the value with that.
Inhofe: In fact, when I chaired this committee and Senator Boxer was the ranking member. She talked about the same thing you’re talking about, except it was TIFIA. You've got to have access to make it into a large program and that’s good. Now, some have raised the concerns that the SRF WIN Act could cannibalize SRFs as well as the WIFIA program and I’ve got to admit, I find this hard for me to believe considering we have multiple supporters of both the WIFIA and the SRFs and I’m one of those. In fact, the SRF WIN Act has clear language that the program will not be funded until the SRF and the WIFIA program are funded at the 2018 levels. I can say as an original co-sponsor of the Boozman legislation that our intention is to provide base funding for those programs in addition to SRF WIN Act funding to attack the $600 billion investment we need for water infrastructure. The Orange County water district is a WIFIA applicant as well as a supporter of the SRF WIN Act. So, what are your concerns about the accusations on cannibalizing the act?
Sarmiento: Well I think that obviously there's value with the SRF program, there’s obviously value with the WIFIA , but WIFIA is intended for larger projects so I think the SRF WIN obviously addresses those smaller projects that some agencies may not be eligible for SRF or WIFIA so I think it's one more element that allows agencies of all levels and all sizes, and again, because we're a larger agency, we can qualify for the WIFIA program—and, as I said—the SRF is so oversubscribed in California that we do need that augment or ancillary support for those smaller firms.
Inhofe: And you believe that helps?