OCBC just wrapped up its annual One Voice, Two Capitals trip to Washington D.C. May 23-25. With over 30 business and local government leaders, the delegation advocated for key issues impacting Orange County, including federal transportation funding for Orange County, a key amendment to the FAA bill aimed at protecting Measure M dollars, water infrastructure and funding, cyber security, energy, trade with China, and the sharing economy. Following a productive meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein, OCBC is looking forward to working together to address the state’s rapidly aging water infrastructure needs including the Bay Delta Project, and new cyber security concerns following the San Bernardino shooting in December. Congressman Darrell Issa also spoke at length on cyber security concerns and the need to invest in better-equipped and educated government programs that can handle emerging security threats. Additionally, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Cory Gardner and John Thune, as well as Congressmen Ed Royce and Sam Graves, voiced support in correcting an FAA rule on aviation fuel sales tax that OCBC considers a federal “money grab” from local voter-approved Measure M dollars.
FAA Rule on Aviation Fuel Sales Tax:
OCBC spoke with many of the legislators, bringing attention an FAA rule that requires all aviation sales tax be spent on airport infrastructure. Sounds good on paper, but for self-help counties like Orange County, it effectively acts as a “money grab” redirecting Measure M money already programmed for transportation projects. Voters approved the Measure M half-cent sales tax on the promise that the funds would be spent on a specific list of projects; this FAA rule is a clear overreach and threatens the ability to follow thru with promises already made. Senators Feinstein, Gardner and Thune, along with Congressmen Ed Royce and Sam Graves, voiced support in correcting the issue within the FAA bill by adopting a floor amendment that will overturn a 2014 FAA ruling: (79 FR 66282).
OCBC met with Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez and Acting Federal Transit Administrator Carol Flowers to discuss federal transportation funding opportunities for Orange County. On the agenda was federal “New Starts” funding for the OC Street Car, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) and Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) grants for the I-405, in addition to a The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan to help finance the I-405 improvement project. OCTA is the lead local agency on all of these federal requests and took the lead advocacy role during the meeting. All of the items on the agenda were well received and OCTA remains optimistic as the applications progress.
Water infrastructure was a popular topic throughout the Capital meetings, in particular discussion on the critical need for the California Water Fix, Cadiz Water Project and a rebate loophole punishing those who have re-landscaped with drought friendly alternatives. The Cadiz Water Project, which plans to transfer ancient groundwater in a remote part of San Bernardino County’s Mojave Desert to parts of Orange County and other locations, is critical to providing much needed water to the Southern California region. Although it was passed stringent environment and legal reviews, the project is still caught up in an 1875 Railroad Right-of-Way Act dispute. OCBC advocated support for the project and urged legislators to review the unnecessary federal restrictions on the project.
In response to California’s historic drought water agencies, such as Metropolitan Water District and Irvine Ranch Water District, established rebate programs to incentize residents to replace water-hungry grass lawns with drought-friendly programs. However, due to a tax loophole, water is the only utility considered a “taxable event” and those same residents are now being taxed on the rebate. OCBC asked for support for HR 2993, currently going through legislative review, to fix the loophole that unfairly punishes water districts and residents for taking measures to conserve water.
OCBC spoke at length with Senator Feinstein and Congressman Issa on cyber security issues that threaten the security and privacy of citizens, government and business. Following the San Bernardino shooting and subsequent iPhone debate, Senator Feinstein discussed new legislation she is working on aimed at strengthening cooperation measures between tech companies and government. Congressman Issa fell on the other side of the debate, insisting that privacy of business and citizens remain a key issue and advocated instead for more focus on better-educated and equipped government cyber programs that can handle emerging security threats.
OCBC met with Deputy Secretary Francisco Carrillo of the Department of Energy to discuss critical issues impacting California and the Southern California region. SoCal Gas spoke about the impacts of the Aliso Canyon gas leak and plans for the managing the summer increase of gas needs throughout the region in light of a heavy loss of natural gas storage. While the gas leak has received negative attention in the media, it is critical that the public and government remain informed about the need for investing in natural gas as a green energy. This is especially true as California aims to meet lofty environmental goals through last year’s passage of SB 350. The OCBC advocated for SB 2415, which works to replace diesel trucks with natural gas engines, removing a major source of pollution from the state’s roadways. OCBC and the Department of Energy also agreed on concerns meeting SB 350’s goal of replacing 50 percent of gas cars with plug-ins by 2030, one of the biggest hurdles in Southern California being the lack of electric charging stations throughout the region. The Department of Energy did speak of a current project that assists businesses with the tools necessary to install workplace-charging stations and is looking to connect with business across the nation. CLICK HERE for more info.