CEO Council for Growth
Federal Legislative Update
Highly-Skilled Immigration Reform
The CEO Council has continued to call on Congress to adopt highly-skilled immigration reform. There has been a great deal of speculation this spring that the House may debate and vote on individual immigration reform bills that have already passed the Judiciary Committee. These bills cover highly skilled foreign workers, border security, and the guest-worker program for agriculture. This speculation has been fueled by comments made by Speaker Boehner indicating his desire to address immigration reform this year, and the release of immigration reform principles drafted by the Speaker and other members of the House GOP leadership in March.
The CEO Council sent a letter to its House Congressional Delegation representatives after these immigration reform principles were released; to date, Speaker Boehner has not scheduled a vote. However, there is still a slim possibility that the House could move on individual immigration reform bills either this summer or in the lame duck session of Congress that will follow the mid-term elections. One thing is clear; if the House does decide to take up immigration reform, it will only consider individual bills covering specific issues, rather than a comprehensive bill such as the one that passed the Senate last year.
There is a great deal of support among both parties for increasing the number of H-1B visas and spots available to highly educated and skilled immigrants. If the House does decide to move the SKILLS Visa Act (H.R. 2131), it is expected to pass easily. The CEO Council will continue to monitor the debate on immigration reform.
Delaware River Main Channel Deepening Project
The CEO Council was pleased to see an increased level of funding for continued progress toward the completion of the Delaware River Main Channel Deepening Project in the President’s Budget Proposal. The CEO Council supports dredging the Delaware River to enhance the prosperity of the Delaware River regional economy, which includes communities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Increased and adequate funding in its final years will help ensure that the project is finished by its target completion date in 2017.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will soon move to markup their respective FY 2015 Energy and Water appropriations bills, which fund Army Corps of Engineers projects. $20 million was included in the FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill for the Delaware River Main Channel Deepening project. While it is unlikely that Congress will approve all the FY 2015 spending bills before the November election, the CEO Council will be active on this issue in the coming weeks and months to ensure that Congress approves the increased funding for FY 2015.
Surface Transportation Reauthorization
The CEO Council recognizes the importance of transportation infrastructure to the competitiveness of the Greater Philadelphia region and is mindful of its impact on the flexibility state and local/regional governments have to finance projects. Recently CEO Council staff met with senior Senate and House staffers in Washington, D.C. to discuss the need for a long-term surface transportation bill in advance of the September 30, 2014 expiration of the current law, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). In those meetings, staff shared the CEO Council’s recommended policy principles.
During the meetings two things were clear. First, bringing solvency back to the Highway Trust Fund remains the biggest challenge to passing a new surface transportation bill. Second, there is general support for a long-term reauthorization that would enable agencies and governments to plan for large-scale infrastructure projects.
Since those meetings, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee approved a bipartisan bill (S. 2322) that would reauthorize the MAP-21 surface transportation bill passed by Congress in 2012. Given the dearth of new funding options, and because the EPW committee does not have jurisdiction over taxes, the bill simply authorizes current funding levels for highway and transit projects, and adjusts these levels so that they will increase with inflation. In the Senate, three other committees (Commerce, Finance, and Banking) have jurisdiction over the highway bill, but they have not yet acted on their parts of it.
Currently, S. 2322 does not include tolling provisions which the CEO Council supports. The CEO Council and sent a letter to Senator Carper, a member of the EPW Committee, requesting that he and his colleagues add language to the bill allowing state transportation agencies to toll all lanes of a federal aid highway if new tolling lanes are constructed.
Finally, now that Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA) has won his primary election, it is expected that he will release the House version of the highway bill in June. However, since Congress will first have to find a way to add funding to the Highway Trust Fund before it becomes insolvent in July, and because there are so few viable options to further increase transportation spending, it is expected the Congress will have to pass an extension of the MAP-21 bill this fall so that the House and Senate Committees can continue to identify new ways to pay for the new bill.
Click here for a Local Legislative update from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
Click here for a State Legislative update from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.