WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania’s 7,540 miles of highway roads are in poor condition. Florida has seen $100 billion in damages over the last decade from extreme weather events. There are 1 in 4 Idahoans with no access to broadband internet, and 1 in 2 living in areas with too-few licensed child care centers.
In the next phase of President Joe Biden’s sales pitch for his $2 trillion infrastructure package, his administration is framing its argument around the mounting, unmet needs in states as it seeks to build public support for another massive spending bill. Democrats are also hitting back at criticisms from congressional Republicans that the mammoth package goes too far beyond the road-and-bridge projects typically associated with infrastructure.
The White House released a set of state-by-state breakdowns on Monday detailing the number of bridges in severe disrepair, increased commuting times due to lack of investment in transit, and growing costs related to ensuring that drinking water systems are safe and clean, as well as funding in the proposal intended to tackle those problems.
Pennsylvania got a C-Minus from the administration for the state of its infrastructure.
“For decades, infrastructure in Pennsylvania has suffered from a systemic lack of investment. The need for action is clear,” the White House’s fact sheet reads.
Here’s how Pennsylvania would benefit from the infrastructure plan, according to the White House:
- ROADS AND BRIDGES: “In Pennsylvania there are 3,353 bridges and over 7,540 miles of highway in poor condition. Since 2011, commute times have increased by 7.6 percent in Pennsylvania and on average, each driver pays $620 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair. The American Jobs Plan will devote more than $600 billion to transform our nations’ transportation infrastructure and make it more resilient, including $115 billion repairing roads and bridges.
- PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: “Pennsylvanians who take public transportation spend an extra 68.8 percent of their time commuting and non-White households are five times more likely to commute via public transportation. 22 percent of trains and other transit vehicles in the state are past useful life. The American Jobs Plan will modernize public transit with an $85 billion investment.
- RESILIENT INFRASTRUCTURE: “From 2010 to 2020, Pennsylvania has experienced 37 extreme weather events, costing the state up to $10 billion in damages. Biden is calling for $50 billion to improve the resiliency of our infrastructure and support communities’ recovery from disaster.
- DRINKING WATER: “Over the next 20 years, Pennsylvania’s drinking water infrastructure will require $16.8 billion in additional funding. The American Jobs Plan includes a $111 billion investment to ensure clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities.
- HOUSING: “In part due to a lack of available and affordable housing, 720,000 renters in Pennsylvania are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent. The President proposes investing over $200 billion to increase housing supply and address the affordable housing crisis.
- BROADBAND: “Five percent of Pennsylvanians live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. And 44% of Pennsylvanians live in areas where there is only one such internet provider. Even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be within reach. Fourteen percent of Pennsylvania households do not have an internet subscription. The American Jobs Plan will invest $100 billion to bring universal, reliable, high-speed, and affordable coverage to every family in America.”
Childcare and More.
Democrats in addition contend that child care and care for older adults and those with disabilities are critical for supporting the country’s economy and overall well-being, along with access to high-speed internet.
“What they really do is identify the needs in these states and how this package could benefit” states, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, adding: “There are different types of funding for infrastructure that would be worked through with Congress as the discussions proceed.”
The new fact sheets don’t offer any estimates on how much money any state could expect to receive if the proposed infrastructure package makes it through the narrowly divided Congress to the president’s desk.
Speaking to regional reporters Monday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said it will be up to Congress to determine how exactly each of the many pots of money will be allocated.
Some dollars likely would be doled out through existing grant programs or using formulas based on a state’s population or other factors.
Congress also is expected to allocate money directly for specific projects, reviving a process known as earmarking that could be used to entice skeptical legislators to support a bill by sending money to their home districts and states.
Though specifics of how various dollars will be distributed are yet to be determined, Buttigieg said the overall approach will be intended to be “user-friendly” for state and local officials to figure out.
“The goal is to be responsive when questions come in, and to try to make the process as simple as can be, so you don’t have to be a large enough community to have full-time federal relations experts in order to navigate any application process,” Buttigieg said.
But in order to have any funding to apply for, the Biden administration will need to combat criticism from Republicans at the proposal’s price tag and its unusually broad definition of critical infrastructure.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Monday called the infrastructure package “a motley assortment of the left’s priciest priorities,” and a bait-and-switch from what voters expect from an infrastructure package.
“Less than 6 percent of this proposal goes to roads and bridges,” he said. “It’s not remotely targeted toward what Americans think they’re getting when politicians campaign on infrastructure.”
Responding to such critiques, Buttigieg pointed to massive national projects like the transcontinental railroad or the interstate highway system, arguing that those ambitious programs also changed how Americans thought about infrastructure.
“They challenged the country to expand its definition of infrastructure from what had prevailed in the past,” Buttigieg said, arguing that broadband internet is just as critical today as those projects were.
Asked how he’s pitching the proposal to Republican lawmakers and governors, Buttigieg replied that he hasn’t needed to argue why there’s a need for more investments, emphasizing that the size of the package will ensure that every state benefits.
The Biden administration’s state-centered fact sheets were published hours ahead of a bipartisan White House meeting between Biden and a handful of lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana and Democratic Rep. David Price of North Carolina.
Graves serves on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and Price is chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s panel on transportation spending.