By Jody Brumage
In 1965, the 89th Congress passed the Appalachian Regional Development Act. The bill, signed by President Lyndon Johnson on March 9, 1965 formally established a track of funding from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), which had been formed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. The ARC encompasses 13 states: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. The appropriations received by the ARC are administered by a commission comprised of the governors of the 13 member states and a federal co-chair who is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
However, the ARC has not operated for the past 50 years without opposition. As a continuing recipient of appropriated funds from Congress, the ARC is subject to reauthorization, a process which has not always been easy. From its passage in 1965 through the mid-1980s and until 2010, the successful reauthorization of the ARC was due in large part to the work of West Virginia Senators Jennings Randolph and Robert Byrd.
Two years later in 1971, Senator Byrd introduced legislation to continue the ARC’s 100% funding level through 1975. This time, he faced opposition not from fellow senators but from President Richard Nixon who wanted to defund the ARC in favor of his revenue-sharing program to aid depressed rural areas. Though the ARC faced reduction in its budgets over these years, it continued to be funded through the efforts of Senators Byrd and Randolph.
The 1980s were especially difficult the ARC. Senator Byrd’s role as Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate and his focus on national issues precluded his ability to continuously fight against the republican Reagan Administration for increased funding. By the end of the 1980s, owing to the Reagan Administration’s refusal to allow increases, ARC funding levels had decreased by over 65%.
When Senator Byrd became Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 1989, he shifted his attention back to the ARC. On September 13, 1990, Senator Byrd testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in support of continuing the ARC. Between 1989 and 1994, Senator Byrd successfully appropriated $896 million to the ARC’s Appalachian Highway System budget. In a 1994 letter, Fred VanKirk, Commissioner of West Virginia State Highways thanked Senator Byrd for his leadership in regaining federal support for the ARC.