KPAX: Infrastructure bill clears Senate with bipartisan vote; Tester helped craft package

by Martin Kidston

Transit, airports, roads and a range of other infrastructure needs in Montana emerged as winners on Tuesday after the U.S. Senate passed a $1 trillion infrastructure plan with bipartisan support.

Sen. Jon Tester, who helped craft the package with a team of 10 Democrats and Republicans, said the bill will have sweeping benefits to the nation’s aging infrastructure while creating jobs and maintaining American’s edge over China.

“It does it without raising taxes on Montana families, and without raising debt,” Tester said on Tuesday. “It’s also about national security. China wants to replace us as the leading economic power in the world and has been investing in infrastructure for decades, and we’re long past time.”

The legislation comes after a months-long process that began as a team of 10 Democrats and Republicans sat down to craft an infrastructure package. The measure moved forward in fits and starts, faltering at times over legislative maneuvering and questions over funding.

Sen. Steve Daines opposed the bill citing concerns over spending.

“The Democrats’ reckless tax and spending spree is just pouring gas on their inflation dumpster fire,” Daines tweeted Tuesday. “Inflation is a tax on ALL Montanans, and the folks who can afford it the least feel it the most.”

However, 19 other Republicans supported the measure, giving it enough votes Tuesday to pass on a 69-30 majority.

“I’m proud of the work of this group of bipartisan senators who have worked over the past four months to get something done that will not only build infrastructure in our state, but is fiscally responsible,” Tester said. “I’m very thankful we had an overwhelming majority of my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, who voted to pass this bill.”

The bill, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, includes $550 billion in new federal spending over five years and invests $110 billion in roads, bridges and major projects.

It also includes $66 billion in passenger and freight rail, $65 billion to rebuild the electric grid, $65 billion to expand broadband, and $39 billion to modernize and expand transit systems.

Tester said the package is funded by clawbacks from the CAREs Act, unused funding from Unemployment Insurance and a range of other sources.

“The list goes on and on, but the bottom line is, whether it’s through the Joint Tax Committee or the Congressional Budget Office, we got assurances this bill was paid for,” Tester said. “Myself and the nine other folks on this committee wanted to make sure we didn’t add to the debt, and we got good assurances it didn’t do that.”

Among other things, the package includes around $7 billion to construct a national network to charging stations for electric vehicles, just as national car manufacturers push to shift their fleet away from internal combustion engines.

Airports in Montana will see around $144 million, Tester said. That could buoy a number of state airports in the middle of needed expansion projects, including Missoula and Kalispell.

“It’s got really good flexibility for runways and terminal improvements. They can even use it to attract competition for better fares,” Tester said. “I’ve talked to a number of people who are managers of airports around the state, and they’ll have no problem maximizing these dollars to make sure that air travel is accessible but ultimately affordable for Montana.”

The measure still needs to pass the House to reach the president’s desk, and the House isn’t expected to take up the bill until the fall. Some members of the House, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have also said they won’t consider the infrastructure bill without a separate “human” infrastructure package.

That could include items for housing, climate change, daycare and other needs. Tester described the dance as a two-step process, and one that “should be a two step process.” He believes that pressure from the president, along with a House caucus known as the “problem solvers,” the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act should find enough support to reach the president.

“There’s enough critical mass in the House to put enough pressure on to get this thing passed, and I think it will,” Tester said. “There may be some screaming and hollering, but I think it will pass the House and get to the president’s desk sometime this fall.”