The April Update: Earmarks, NC Beach Troubles, National Nourishment Funding, and the NFIP | WaterLog
DC - It's where the money is these days.
On this April Update of the WaterLog Podcast, Howard and Dan dive into how the earmarking process is impacting congressional budget decisions, North Carolina’s beach troubles, national beach nourishment funding, and an update on the National Flood Insurance Program.
Dan Ginolfi 0:09
Hello, and welcome to the April edition of the WaterLog podcast. My name is Dan Ginolfi.
Howard Marlowe 0:15
And I'm Howard Marlowe.
Dan Ginolfi 0:17
Thanks very much for tuning in. As always, thanks very much to the American shoreline Podcast Network and coastal news today for hosting us. First, we want to talk about how earmarks are playing out this Congress. Talk a little bit about North Carolina who's having some trouble with their beaches, and national beach nourishment funding and the National Flood Insurance Program. Let's get Started.
Howard Marlowe 0:47
Ready to go? We're all vaccinated here.
Unknown Speaker 0:49
Yes, we are Johnson and Johnson here and
Howard Marlowe 0:52
Hunter, not here.
Dan Ginolfi 0:53
All right. President's budget earmarks first. So while we're waiting for the President's budget to be released in late May, which is what we're hearing, Congress has been caught up a little bit with earmarks. So if you hadn't heard earmarks are back on the House side, at least senate hasn't quite made a decision, which will make for an interesting debate with the Senate. If the house does hold on to them, and the senate doesn't,
Howard Marlowe 1:20
Absolutely, confusion will reign.
Dan Ginolfi 1:22
And the house is calling them community project funding requests or community community funding or just community projects. In essence, instead of earmarks like I said, trying to avoid that word, but regardless, the issue is far more complex than just bipartisan support. It seems like pretty much everyone you know, and their mother and their cousin and their brothers is looking for an earmark because we've heard that you know, earmarks your back. Everyone is now asking for earmarks.
Howard Marlowe 1:52
It's amazing. This thing was a four letter word for people. Oh, earmarks are horrible. Oh, you bring him back? I won't.
Dan Ginolfi 1:59
Exactly. So there is,
Howard Marlowe 2:02
You know, the only people who can ask our local governments and nonprofits, and there are other limitations on them, too. And they have to be very transparent in terms of where they're posted. all that sort of stuff. So, you know, we'll see how it works. But more than half of the house and more than half of the Senate members have never dealt with earmarks. So it's gonna be a little rocky in the start?
Unknown Speaker 2:26
Well, earmarks, you know, from from what I know, signaled corruption, right? And that was that there was something wrong. And I've learned that that's not necessarily the case.
Howard Marlowe 2:33
No, we function for a lot of years, with earmarks without any corruption at all. In fact, corruption is illegal. That is you buy you, you say per se, somebody, oh, I'll give you campaign contribution, if you will get me some defense money, right. That's what get people in trouble. A couple of people, they landed in jail, then Congress got scared and said, Oh, that's horrible. We have to stop all this business. So we cut ourselves out. So they only amounted to one or one and a half percent of total spending. And, nevertheless, Congress turned that money all over to the administration. To have earmarks doesn't mean you spend more. It doesn't mean that at all, it means that out of the total spending 1% is taken for earmarks. So let's see what happens.
Unknown Speaker 3:27
Let's see, before it seemed like Congress was kind of abusing the power of earmarks. And now it's almost the flip side where the people requesting the local governments are looking to take advantage of that process.
Howard Marlowe 3:37
I mean, some of the things that I've seen,
Dan Ginolfi 3:38
this isn't gonna let it happen. This Yeah,
Howard Marlowe 3:40
no, I mean, the rules are too strict. Now, I mean, people are not going to be asking for teapot museums and things like that, go and Google that. And you'll find that that was one of the requests that got some attention. But you know, there's stuff that most committees need. And what happens is, certainly in smaller communities with folks that we represent, they don't get as many grants and the competitive process, it really not able to deal with all the paperwork, all the all of the other things stuff they have to do, it's really heavy burden. So members of Congress get a chance to put some house requests in. Now, the real importance of earmarks is that members of Congress only get to request I think, on the House side, it's a total of 10 requests they can make. That means that they have to make in their 12 appropriation bills. So they're gonna have to decide what they want to request. And they may actually have to talk to members of the appropriation committee, if that member of Congress is making the request is not a member of the appropriation committee and say, Hey, I need your help. That means that members work with each other. My hope is I don't think it's going to happen right? In the first year. I do think it's going to happen that over time, members will start talking with each other again, across party lines across districts, and I'm going to be able to say I need your help, I'd like to be able to get this sewer system some money for a sewer system installed. And so that works very nicely. Again, it's transparent. If a member has to request it, they have to explain why they're requesting it. Who's requested it, how much is requested, guarantee that they've received no payments, etc. In return for that goes up on a website, then, and next websites on the Appropriations Committee, which says all the year earmark requests that it's received from members. And then they decide which ones they're going to pick. So you'll all know what's going on. And newspaper articles will be written that some are better than others. That's true, you know, or some sound better than others. That's always going to be the case, even with competitive grants. He speak up all members of Congress, they would have I forget what they call it, but it was always the kind of, you know, that picked a clicker, which was always a big thing. Because it was always something like a grant to research. How many species of ants there are, in the answer that is over 15,000, I was just reading articles. And nobody even knows the answer to a real answer. So but you know, there would be something like that. And they say, well, that's a waste of taxpayer money. Well, you get to choose. And if you're elected official, and you're choosing earmarks, and you say, Oh, I don't like that I'm not gonna vote for this entire bill, because I don't want the earmark to be in there. You do that at your own peril. Hopefully, you didn't ask for anything that was in that bill?
Dan Ginolfi 6:42
Well, the best earmark you can always get would be in your mark in the President's budget.
Howard Marlowe 6:46
Yes. And the President for the Corps of Engineers. earmarks is probably the only agency plus other than the Bureau of Reclamation, which also the president earmarks. And those of you in the western states, listening to us know about the Bureau of Reclamation, they do work that similar to the Corps. And so the President has earmarks for the Corps of Engineers. He's going to have them anyway, he always has always continued to have one Congress prohibited self from earmarking. So best ways, to best ones to get our presidential earmarks. We'll get to that a little bit later. And beach nourishment. We talked about that.
Dan Ginolfi 7:30
So I think right now, since we're already talking about budgeting and earmarks, talk about infrastructure for a moment, because there was a recent decision by the Senate parliamentarian, which is in essence, the referee for how for decisions and you know, how bills are interpreted or what what rules the democratic side can use. Once you talk about that decision, and how that may impact infrastructure decisions moving forward, you
Howard Marlowe 7:54
know, you'll hear the term budget reconciliation and budget reconciliation is a very complicated process. But the bottom line is that the democrats already used a two reconciliation to pass the COVID response bill earlier this year, and the parliamentarian just rule that they can use the budget resolution a second time. Basically, budget resolution is something where the senate agreed to what its budget would be for the current fiscal year. And they use the COVID. Bell as amendment to that, it means that you'll have to get 50 votes or 51 votes rather majority of the Senate, rather than allowing a filibuster, which requires 60 votes. So democrats could move ahead with that democrat only infrastructure bill if they wanted to. Doesn't mean that the infrastructure bill that you're reading about in the paper that President Biden has proposed is the infrastructure bill. We haven't seen a language yet. Democrats have yet to propose language, they're gonna have differences. They're going to it's going to take. Speaker Pelosi says you want to have this passed by July 4, I would be very surprised. And whatever is passed by July 4, it can be changed. There's going to be a fall bill, my prediction, at best. And that's gonna impact some appropriations things we're going to be talking about in a moment, too. But it means that the democrats can go ahead and find 51 votes amongst themselves, because they've got that with the vice president voting to break a tie. They can come up with a bill that includes infrastructure and tax increases to pay for infrastructure. So sort of budget reconciliation means we can get 51 votes to pass. We don't need 60. They can't be filibustered. It can be argued, it will be debated on the floor can be amended on the floor. Can't be earmarked on the floor. You can't get your favorite project earmarked in the infrastructure bill. We'll find out how that works later, as we find out what the Bell is in within the bell rather. But yeah,
Dan Ginolfi 10:02
we've got So a couple things to keep your eye out for and about late May we're looking for President Biden's full budget. There's supposed to be a skinny budget out. But I still haven't seen no.
Howard Marlowe 10:11
And it's kind of interesting, skinny budget which President Trump used the skinny budget for his budget started out, say, here's my overall objectives for how I want to make America great. And so President Biden, we see what's going to know build back better or whatever it's going to be, which is going to be a short budget with an overview. And that was supposed to come out last week, Thursday or Friday? It didn't. Right hasn't been a word about it that I've seen at all. Yeah, there's something going on. And I'm not quite sure why. But we're certainly waiting on a detailed budget to the May.
Dan Ginolfi 10:46
so skinny budget out hopefully, in the next let's look, you know, hopefully by the end of this week, if not full budget out by May. can hope but as you said, Howard, you know, locally, likely more towards fall and infrastructure bill to be interred at least introduced?
Howard Marlowe 11:00
Well, I think we get the infrastructure bill introduced before that, but I don't think we can get it passed. Certainly I passed the Senate before then there's a lot of discussion going on, about what ought to be in it. What's in it right now. If you're looking at infrastructure itself, roads and bridges, 115 billion electric vehicles 174 billion fordable. Housing 230 billion is what the President's proposing power grid and clean energy 100 Bayon, public transit 85 and so forth and so on. You know, in terms of, you know, what might be there for water, I would look at more of the drinking water and clean water kinds of things to be in there. Not maybes imports, and inland waterways, transit, in essence, how is commerce moving, and they look at commerce and inland waterways, and may put some money in for that. Beyond that, I would not expect anything for coastal resilience to be in there,
Dan Ginolfi 12:07
as that'd be around the fall. And that also brings us right up against the end of the fiscal year, in the end of September. So when we look at expecting a work plan, I would guess probably November, December, again, the same way that we were,
Howard Marlowe 12:19
if we're lucky. And you know, I'm beginning to think about this more and more in terms of what can Congress do, if they've used budget reconciliation, to pass COVID, the COVID bill, and as they use budget reconciliation to pass this infrastructure bill, which incidentally, was a first of a two parter, we haven't seen the second part, which is not infrastructure, it's having to do more with social services and the like, we haven't seen proof about that yet. How are they even going to get to appropriations? Because we're spending a lot of money outside of the regular appropriations process. The Appropriations Committee is going to have to be involved in how that spent, I don't know, they're gonna even have time. And there may not be a willingness on the part of Republicans in the Senate to want to have a regular appropriations process. What does that mean? Well, certainly, as you said, is going to be fall, before we could have anything possibly as an appropriation bills. More likely, I think we're gonna have continuing resolution, going to best December. And Lord knows, maybe well into next year. That'll be messy, don't like it. But that may be coming.
Dan Ginolfi 13:43
Well, let's take a break and jump over to another interesting issue that we both been tracking in North Carolina. Now there's two two things I want to talk about here. The first one is that a few North Carolina beaches have been finding their way into the news lately, based on an apparent mix up with the Corps and Congress. We don't really see it as a mix up. So but let's just stick to the facts here. Especially for any North Carolinians listening. The Wrightsville and Carolina carry projects were authorized in the Water Resources Development Act. However, they were not funded. And that's an important. It's an important distinction to make, because wardha Water Resource Development Act is an authorizing piece of legislation. not appropriate is not an appropriations bill. So Congress in the Corps, you know, they do this authorization and appropriations process slowly, but it's it's deliberate. It's done for a reason.
Howard Marlowe 14:39
Yeah, whatever was passed, actually, at the same time as appropriations, but the way the core works,
Dan Ginolfi 14:45
Well a bill was really already put together over the summer.
Howard Marlowe 14:48
Well, in terms of the workplan Yes, where do you see we're at partner that that bill was actually done summertime. So we're it was passed by the House never got passed by the Senate. The Senate committee. get past it by summertime. And then it just sat there. appropriations also moved in the house. I fall, never passed the Senate. But Senate committee had acted on all 12 appropriation bills. Then December, around Christmas time came this giant Omnibus, I forget what we called it, but I was I spell. And so what happened there was it included the appropriations, but it also included order and other things. Now, for the core appropriations only mean that they get another 60 days past the appropriations veil to put out their work plan. And so the word plan came out, actually less than 60 days, out 30 days after less than that came out in January. And so the folks in North Carolina got to come up with us, they said, Oh, we got authorized in Word. And that area, put out an announcement, I guess, congressional offices, Corps, putting out announcements, whoever they were saying, Well, you know, these two projects got x million dollars, authorized nobody paid attention to the meaning of the word authorized, is very simple. It gives you the right to ask for money. The other thing they didn't put together, before it was released was the core work plan. released early in January, rather than 60 days later, because he had already been put together, needed a few details, worked out with the fine folks at the Office of Management and Budget. And so it was released a day before the the inauguration as I recall. So it had already been done before word of was done. So there was no chance of asking for that to be appropriate. And so folks got very confused in a lot of articles and newspaper, a lot of local officials very annoyed, submissive misunderstanding. I'm sorry that that happened. But it's not our fault. People need to understand what actually happened and look at the words.
Dan Ginolfi 17:15
I mean, misleading yeah, misleading. Press Releases come out far more often than people think.
Howard Marlowe 17:21
Yeah, I'm afraid that's true.
Dan Ginolfi 17:23
I mean, I'm using the word misleading, because it's not that they're, you know,
Howard Marlowe 17:27
they're not intentionally misleading. Let's put it that way. Members of Congress have a right to be proud of the things that they asked for and gotten bells. With the same time, they have to understand that there is a replication repercussion for that, which happens that people are reading. And then other people are writing articles from them. And people who write articles, believe me have no idea what the congressional process is. So, you know, they quickly say, Oh, so and so got x million dollars. In fact, they only got an authorized user,
Dan Ginolfi 18:03
what the language user says is authorized for a certain amount of money. Yeah, for example, a 50 year beach nourishment project might be authorized for $150 million.
Howard Marlowe 18:13
Yeah, sounds like
Dan Ginolfi 18:14
that's going to be expended over the next 50 years. But anyway, bottom line, the project is authorized, just awaiting funding.
Howard Marlowe 18:21
Yeah, and they'll have a chance to, to get that in the next. You know, I don't know whether there's going to be a work plan. Of course, we don't know whether there's going to be even a budget. So but at least have a chance to be in that budget if it's there. Right.
Dan Ginolfi 18:35
And then another issue in North Carolina, the town of Avon is facing enormous property tax hikes in order to pay for its main road from washing away. And in some cases, the town wants to raise property taxes by nearly 50% in some areas.
Howard Marlowe 18:51
You know, that's something that is happening. Also another one in North Carolina and North Topsail read just the other day. If they don't get assistance from the county, they do have a federally authorized project. There's funding for that they got in one of the supplemental disaster appropriations bills, but they do have to come up with their non federal share. And they're talking about doubling property taxes. I've read this in other communities as well. Somebody has to pay for roses. It is not always going to be Uncle Sam. There is just not enough money available in the federal government to pay for it is not always going to be your state government, I think was the town manager and Avon who said if it wasn't an Avon, I apologize. It was somewhere else in that area of North Carolina. I was in dare County. He said, you know, nobody's going to come save us. We're going to have to do this ourselves. So communities are going to be facing some very difficult decisions about how they're going to save themselves. Because getting new federal projects very hard, if not impossible, getting funding for new projects, very hard, getting funding for existing projects. Wow, we've seen that problem coming now.
Dan Ginolfi 20:15
And that leads us right into our next topic, which is National beach nourishment funding. And the reason I want to bring this one up is because we keep records of what we call shore protection funding, which includes core programs and projects. But when we look at just projects, so just beach nourishment projects, a few that have what we track investigations, and construction and construction, a little bit of omm. But beach nourishment projects are ongoing construction. So really, that's the figure that I'm looking at, which is the ongoing construction for each year in the work plan. And over the past decade, there's only been one year where I think there was maybe 80 or 90 million. And that was a strange year, for the most part every year as received about 50 million in construction funds for beach nourishment. Probably it's exactly
Howard Marlowe 21:02
right, that 90 million was early enough, I think around the turn of the century, literally, and we haven't been seeing those numbers at all, since across administration's doesn't make any difference. So it's a real problem, because what's the kind of need right now?
Dan Ginolfi 21:17
Well, the need is from just the baseline need from what's scheduled. And FYI, 22, plus the backlog project, which the FYI, 21 projects or before that weren't funded, in addition to new starts and new and other requests that are also seeking money, just the scheduled request is 100. But 117 million, add on the additional projects that are also going to be seeking funding, not scheduled, but we'll be seeking funding, and we're up to about 150 million. Now Congress has only appropriated roughly 50 million in the past decade annually.
Howard Marlowe 21:50
Yeah, so that's for those of us like me who are challenged, you know, sort of look at as 1/3 or less than a third of the of the needs. And, you know, this is something now that is coming to haunt us because some of this need is driven by Sandy projects, they got built totally on the federal dime. Or they got nursed the second time or subsequent time, totally on federal dime. Now, they're coming up for renourishment. And we aren't even factoring in the Florida projects. They get money from post Sandy supplementals that are going to be asking for money. That's why we think it might be up to 150 million. So you know, when you look at it, this is something where if you don't get the President's budget last year was next to nothing. With presidential earmarks of projects for shock protection, was the argument zero? Yeah. So when you start with zero, or you start with 20, and Congress can only last year in essence, Congress added roughly 50 million. So if that's the limit, and that's been pretty much the limit of what we've seen Congress being able to add, in terms of adding money to put sand on beaches. If that is their limit this year, for the next fiscal year, then we're in trouble.
Dan Ginolfi 23:22
I always love to put things in context, because one of the most common things that we hear is that beach nourishment is a waste. Yeah, millions, when we're talking trillions of dollars, millions is Zippo. It is less than pennies.
Howard Marlowe 23:37
This, you know, if we look at the cost, the cost it is to put in a new highway, interstate highway over change. interchange, I guess, is the proper term for that. It costs as much to do that as it does to do all of the nurse speeches in the United States. It's amazing. So when you look at that, just put it into perspective. Those speeches, yes, they have people who are enjoying the beaches. That's great in there folks are surfing off of them, fishing off of them doing all those things. But they are preventing damages. The only reason we do it, the federal level is the benefit cost ratio, the damage is avoided, the damage is prevented. They far exceed that 50 million that we're investing, we have to be able to invest double that triple that.
Dan Ginolfi 24:31
And there may come a time where the economics don't work out. Yes. But right now they do. And I just want to
Howard Marlowe 24:36
know, it's very possible that there's some issues there that we're going to be discussing down the road. Because the way that's been pried the benefit, cost ratios determined is kind of wacko. But having said that it is the way it's determined. And therefore they they meet the ones that are looking for money. They're authorized by Congress. They're a pass through Even the folks who the Office of Management and Budget, at least in their initial construction, there's just not enough money they have a nurse Amal. So unless the president puts in something better than zero and significantly better, is zero, there's going to be a lot of trouble a lot of hurting communities saying Where's my money.
Dan Ginolfi 25:21
And just to put the cherry on top. If, as Howard mentioned with the other projects in Florida, if we don't get the funding this year in FY 22, or FYI, 23, the need is going to likely double if not triple plus it dredged demand, sediment availability, I mean, dredges are at their highest demand that they've ever been.
Howard Marlowe 25:45
Yeah, it there's, I know, they've been a couple of new treasures added to the fleet that are capable, at least one I can think of is capable of doing beach nourishment work, but when you have this kind of demand plus you have environmental windows, that mean that, in essence, the price for being able to get that dredge in place, has already gone up significantly. And it will go up even more. So as the demand increases. So do understand that there's going to be trouble down the road one way or the other issue is, can we mitigate the amount of trouble by getting more into the President's budget, and having more organized? I'm just not seeing any organized effort.
Dan Ginolfi 26:30
The trouble wind up for local governments. I mean, the trouble is no, it's not for the federal government.
Howard Marlowe 26:35
Exactly. No, shovel it off the federal government to say no, to no trouble, except because they then put out the money and post disaster funding. It comes out, we haven't even had a post disaster bill for all the storms and the floods last year, we're gonna have to deal with that at some point. And they will put the money out post disaster. And they'll all complain about it. The federal level said we can't do that. Again, they'll do it again. But they will not in the regular budgeting process, unless there is a more organized effort, a more outspoken effort on the part of local communities to get that funding into the President's budget, and to push for Congress to add as much as it possibly can to that funding. So last
Dan Ginolfi 27:22
thing, we want to get to new changes to the National Flood Insurance Program. New flood insurance premiums will take effect on October 1 2021. For new policies and April 1 2022. For the rest of existing policies. New premiums will be based on a property's value, risk of flooding and other factors, rather than simply on a property's elevation in a flood zone. FEMA says its risk analysis will make policies and costs more equitable. However, other experts say the NFP is basically a subsidy.
Howard Marlowe 28:01
This is risk rating 2.0. And there's been a lot of talk about it, there is now going to be a huge amount of talk. Some people are going to see increases in rates, those with lower value properties will see decreases according to FEMA, at least talk to your local insurance agent who's got your policy and have him or her explain what they think is going to be the impact on your on your premiums. But to know that one way or another this is designed to take that criticism of NF IP not being well being as you said foreigner a subsidy. Here, it's trying to make it more attuned to the actual risk involved. And females doing at least a yeoman's job of trying whether that's something that we like or don't like, I'm not saying because I really don't understand how that's going to impact folks yet. But I do think it's better that it'd be more attuned to what the actual risk is. What happens along the coast, is that it's such a nice place to live, to do business, to work to recreate that people take it for granted. And so it's hard to communicate and say, Oh, you remember the flat of 2012 or something like that? Oh, yeah, that was a bad one. And then they talk about it as if you know, they were talking about when they were last out duck hunting or something like that. The fact is that we need to be able to communicate risk better, and probably in the risk rating. 2.0 is a better way to do that. It's not the only way to do it. But it is a better way.
Dan Ginolfi 29:48
There will be people who are happy and I'm sure people who are unhappy.
Howard Marlowe 29:52
That's the way life goes. Yeah,
Dan Ginolfi 29:54
but it is opening day for the nationals.
Howard Marlowe 29:57
Yes, that's finally a little delay. Yes, speakers of the nasty virus. I think we're the only team in the league that had that honor, but have been delayed But nevertheless, go nuts. We're going to be watching late this afternoon this evening and watching you coming back from for another World Series when
Unknown Speaker 30:19
get vaccinated, stay healthy. Enjoy the spring and we'll be back with you guys in May.
Howard Marlowe 30:24
Thanks very much. Bye bye