Brown on Business
May 10-16, 2021
President Biden’s infrastructure plan faces tough fight in fractured Congress
By Wesley Brown
If President Joe Biden gets his way this summer, Americans need to brace for a mother of all construction projects that will dwarf the ongoing downtown Arkansas River construction on the I-30 Crossing development.
According to Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) officials, the local traffic gridlock is part of the statewide Connecting Arkansas Program (CAP), the largest highway construction program ever undertaken by the state of Arkansas. The controversial $1 billion downtown project that is widening a 6.7-mile section of the interstate through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock is expected to be completed by late 2024 or early 2025.
Today, the multi-year project is already creating traffic bottlenecks for all roads leading into Little Rock. Each day in the downtown area, construction zones are slowing traffic as hundreds of workers reconstruct the existing six-lane I-30 roadway while adding two decision lanes in each direction that ultimately feed into the collector and distributor lanes located at the I-30 Arkansas River Bridge.
State highway officials say the I-30 Crossing corridor through downtown Little Rock consists of infrastructure that is over 50 years old and at the end of its useful life, including the Arkansas River Bridge which has been classified as “functionally obsolete, structurally deficient, and fracture critical in its design.”
In unveiling his $2.2 billion American Jobs Plans in late March, President Biden’s broad infrastructure blueprint will set out to modernize 20,000 miles of highways, roads, and Main Streets. If approved, it would also fix the nation’s ten most economically significant bridges and repair 10,000 smaller “dangerous” bridges in rural and urban communities nationwide.
The president’s plan will also place thousands of thousands of buses and rail cars, repair hundreds of transportation hubs and stations, and expand transit and railways into new communities. Outside of trains, planes, and highways, the largest infrastructure legislation in U.S. history would also eliminate all lead pipes and service lines in the nation’s municipal water systems. Other infrastructure improvements include bringing high-speed broadband to every American, Biden said, including improving connections to 35% of rural Americans who lack access to the internet at minimally acceptable speeds.
As part of the administration’s climate change policy and clean energy push, the massive infrastructure package also includes a $174 billion set aside to boost the nation’s fledgling electric vehicle market and to build a national network of 500,000 EV chargers by 2030. Noting the U.S.’s small market share of plug-in electric vehicle (EV) sales compared to China, Biden said that scenario must change for the U.S. to “win the EV market.”
“It’s going to boost America’s innovative edge in markets where global leadership is up for grabs — markets like battery technology, biotechnology, computer chips, clean energy, the competition with China in particular,” said Biden.
As the administration begins marshaling American support this week for the largest infrastructure plan since American troops returned to the U.S. from World War II, Biden said his economic agenda will ensure that the best, diverse minds in America are put to work creating the innovations of the future while creating hundreds of thousands of quality jobs today. “Our workers will build and make things in every part of America, and they will be trained for well-paying, middle-class jobs,” he said.
According to a recent state-by-state fact sheet distributed by the White House, Arkansas’ infrastructure has suffered from a systemic lack of investment. Since 2011, that lack of funding has left 663 bridges and over 6,700 miles of highway in poor condition, increasing commute times statewide by 3% and costing each driver pays $671 per year to drive on roads in need of repair.
If approved in its current form, Arkansas would get a proportionate share of $600 billion in federal funding for highway and road repair. The Natural State would also get an additional slice of the $2.2 trillion rescue pie to address other so-called “infrastructure needs,” including public transit, housing, rural broadband, drinking water, manufacturing and clean energy jobs, childcare, and veterans’ health.
Alongside his American Jobs Plan, President Biden has also introduced the equally mammoth $1.8 trillion American Families Plan and the Made in America Tax Plan that would hike the corporate tax rate to 28% to cover the $4.1 trillion price tax. Under former President Donald Trump’s $1.9 trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, the top corporate tax rate was cut from 35% to 21%.
Since then, three additional COVID-19 stimulus packages, two by Trump and one by Biden, have pushed the U.S. deficit to well over $10 trillion. To make his case, Biden has noted that the 2017 corporate tax cut did not pay for itself as advertised but grew to $681 billion to a bit over $1 trillion instead. Administration officials are also touting findings from a recent study highlighting that 91 Fortune 500 companies paid zero in federal taxes on U.S. income in 2018.
If approved alongside the American Rescue Plan, Biden said his tax hike and economic boost from the $2.2 infrastructure proposal would fully replenish U.S. budget coffers within 15 years. The smaller American Families Plan includes a $1.8 trillion “human infrastructure” investment to strengthen the nation’s middle class. The second-phase investment would substantially increase government spending in pre-kindergarten education and childcare, health insurance, higher wages, paid family leave, and free community college for all Americans.
Republican lawmakers, however, are mostly cool to raising the current corporate tax rate and hiking the minimum tax for multinational corporations with operations in the U.S. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said none of the 50 Republican in the U.S. Senate would support Biden’s $4 trillion-plus dual infrastructure plans, including Arkansas Republican Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton.
Democrats have floated changing the filibuster rules to advance Biden’s agenda in the evenly split 50-50 Senate. Democrats now hold a slim majority with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote. Under McConnell, Republicans got rid of the filibuster rules, which allow the minority party to block or delay key legislation, to push through former President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. However, Senate Republicans leaders have warned Democrats that removing the three-fifths filibuster requirement would lead to payback in the future.
Republican senators are expected to unveil their counteroffer to Biden in the coming days. Early drafts of the GOP plan expect costs to range between $600 million and $900 million, well short of Biden’s $4 trillion-plus price tag. Among several items, Republicans are looking to cut any spending not related to traditional forms of infrastructure, such as funding for home care for the elderly and disabled and electric cars.
Still, the consensus on both sides of the aisles is that Congress will adopt an infrastructure plan by June to at least repair and upgrade highways, bridges and the aging energy grid. Most Republicans and Democrats also agree that protecting the nation’s water supply and approving legislation to spur new investment in faster broadband is necessary to regain the nation’s competitive edge over China, Russia, and other countries.
Given years of inaction in Washington, D.C., due to partisan bickering, most Americans would be extremely happy to see the Biden administration and Republicans reach some type of agreement at the negotiating table. Even if it means years of local traffic gridlocks that would eventually the U.S. economy to new heights never seen before.