In any $1 trillion spending bill, there is bound to be something for everybody. That amounts, after all, to more than $3,000 per person for the entire United States.
And an infrastructure bill that passed the U.S. Senate last week is encouraging for Washington state. There is a seemingly endless array of projects that will receive overdue attention over the next decade. Primary among them is the Interstate 5 Bridge, with a new fund included in the bill likely to provide money for the long-awaited project.
“I would put the state of Washington high on a list of states that desperately needs infrastructure investment,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said. “We have been blessed with a growing economy and a big trade economy based on the Pacific Rim. … We need to keep moving product. We need to keep moving services and we need infrastructure investment to do so.”
Cantwell chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. She and fellow Washington Democrat Patty Murray, chair of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, both played significant roles in designing the infrastructure bill.
The bill passed the Senate by a 69-30 vote but faces uncertain prospects in the House of Representatives. There, progressive Democrats are insisting that a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint (which passed the Senate 50-49) be passed in the House before consideration of the infrastructure bill.
Democrats should not hold the infrastructure bill hostage in a quest for social policy initiatives. Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said she was “relieved” the Senate infrastructure bill “sticks to traditional infrastructure” such as roads and broadband, and House members of both parties should embrace the benefits of that investment.
That traditional infrastructure is essential to Washington. Murray said: “This bill represents a historic, generational investment in our infrastructure — it will be the single largest investment in bridge repair since we built the interstate highway systems and the largest investment in public transit and clean-energy transmission in history.”
Clean energy must be a priority. Last week’s report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted the threat posed by a warming climate. Such spending would be an investment not only in the environment but in the clean-energy industries that are burgeoning in Washington. The Senate bill, for example, would provide $71 million to bolster our state’s electric-vehicle charging system.
It also would provide $4.7 billion for highways and $605 million for bridge replacement and repairs; $384.7 million for airports; and money to replace culverts and improve salmon passage, as mandated by a court order.
The question, of course, is how to pay for all of this over the next 10 years. One proposal from the Biden administration would increase funding to the Internal Revenue Service to improve its collection mechanisms.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Analysis estimates that would help the IRS recoup an extra $700 billion in tax revenue over 10 years, paying for the bulk of the infrastructure bill. Earlier this year, IRS officials estimated the “tax gap” – the difference between what the agency is owed and what it collects – at $1 trillion a year.
Funding is essential; for too long Congress has willfully spent money it does not have. But regardless of the source, investment in the future of this nation is necessary. Long-ignored infrastructure spending will help improve the United States’ economy and livability for decades to come.