Great Falls Tribune: Roads, water and the Internet: Montana Senator Jon Tester promotes U.S. infrastructure bill
By: David Murray
Montana Sen. Jon Tester stopped in Great Falls briefly on Thursday to detail the benefits northcentral Montana will receive with passage of the $1.2 trillion Senate Infrastructure Bill now before the U.S. House of Representatives.
"The truth is, everywhere I go across the state - it doesn't matter where you're going, roads and bridges need to be worked on," Tester told a small assemblage of city dignitaries and local press. "We need our broadband to be brought up to 21st century standards. We've got water systems that are wore out, all across our state. That's why over the last few months I've been working with four other Democrats and five Republicans to negotiate a once-in-a-generation bipartisan bill that's going to make urgently needed investments in our communities to create jobs and help America maintain our economic advantage over China."
Tester has gained national attention in recent months for his role as one of five Democratic Senators who worked closely with five Senate Republicans to hammer out a bipartisan Infrastructure bill acceptable to both parties. The 10-member caucus shepherded the $1.2 trillion spending bill through easy passage in the Senate, with 19 Republicans joining every Senate Democrat in a 69 to 30 vote.
Tester highlighted some of the direct benefits Montana's may expect to receive with full passage of the Infrastructure Bill. They include:
- Approximately $3 billion for Montana highways and bridges.
- $144 million for Montana airports including $9.5 million for Great Falls International
- Approximately $370 million for rural water projects in Montana, including the Milk River Project and the Fort Peck/Dry Prairie, Rocky Boys/North Central, and Musselshell-Judith rural water systems.
- And billions of dollars nationwide to expand high-speed internet to rural areas including much of Montana.
"There's a lot of things to like in this bill but ultimately it comes down to three things," Tester said. "This legislation is going to create a whole lot of good paying jobs across this country and across Montana. It will help us maintain our economic advantage over adversaries like China, who want to replace us as, and are working hard to replace us as the leading economic power in the world. And it will leave Montana and our country in a better place for our kids and our grandkids."
"I'm calling on (U.S. House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi to take up this legislation as soon as possible, and if you can believe what's in the newspapers, I believe there's a commitment to get this bill done by the end of September," he added.
Tester claimed the Infrastructure Bill could be enacted without raising taxes on Montana families or adding to the our national debt; a claim that has been challenged by the Congressional Budget Office which calculates the Infrastructure bill will add $256 billion to the deficit over the 10-year life of the legislation.
However, local city officials voiced common support for passage of the Senate Infrastructure Bill.
"Unlike many things we see causing partisan gridlock in D.C., this bill will have an immediate and direct impact on our daily lives - in a good way I might add," said Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly. "It will benefit our highways, it will improve the safety of our bridges, and as a river community that's critical to us. It provides better and more access to the Internet, and helps us with practical, pragmatic and necessary repairs and improvements to things left undone for too long - dangerously too long."
"As a mayor I see this as an opportunity, to not only to fix the long deferred issues in our local infrastructure - but I see opportunity, and I see jobs," Kelly added. "Good jobs for our local businesses. contractors and support services."
Great Falls Chamber of Commerce President Shane Etzwiler noted how a 2018 report by the American Society of Engineers gave Montana an overall C- grade for the condition of its infrastructure, with bridges receiving a C, roads a C-, water systems a C- and storm water systems a D.
"It's very important we support this infrastructure bill and what it will do," Etzwiler said, "not just all of America but specifically here in the Great Falls area and central Montana."
In recent weeks the proponents of the Infrastructure Bill scored a victory when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to "decouple" the Infrastructure Bill from subsequent voting on the far more controversial $3.5 trillion budget resolution. The House recently passed the its version of the $3.5 trillion budget along strict party lines, but with no Republican support it seems likely passage of the overall budget resolution will be held up by the Congressional reconciliation process.
"I support decoupling it," Tester said of the two spending bills' machinations. "I think they're two different pieces of legislation and there's no real reason to couple them together. if reconciliation gets hung up, which it could, this bill still goes forward and gets across the finish line which I think is really important."
"I think if we get it on the floor it's going to pass," Tester added. "I think there's bipartisan support for this bill in the House. I've talked to Democrats and Republicans over there who think this is the right thing to do. It's going to be a very similar make-up I believe of what it took to pass the Senate."
Tester said that if all goes as expected, communities like Great Falls could begin seeing federal infrastructure money begin rolling in before the end of 2021.