Infrastructure investments may be on the table in 2019
Seven of Washington’s U.S. House and Senate members addressed the key issue of federal infrastructure spending at AWB's second-annual Federal Affairs Summit in Tacoma on Aug. 14.
The nation’s highways, byways and rural roads support Washington's economy — getting goods to market and ensuring economic security in farming and other rural regions across Washington state. And, the high-tech economy is making infrastructure needs more diverse and complex.
“We are under-invested in all manner of infrastructure,” U.S. Rep. Denny Heck (D-10) told business, government and chamber leaders in attendance. “The underlying understanding is we need to invest. It’s not just about jobs now, but economic growth later.”
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-2) said Washington state is doing its part on infrastructure funding, referencing the $16 billion, 2015 Connecting Washington transportation funding and reform package passed by the Legislature and supported by AWB.
But, he said, the federal government has not done its part and it will only get worse with the Highway Trust Fund “dropping precipitously” beginning in 2020.
“With each renewal of the trust fund spending, $4 billion comes to Washington state,” Larsen said. In light of the impending trust fund “cliff,” he stressed that other means of bolstering the fund, such as raising the federal gas tax for the first time since 1993, looking to electric and hybrid car drivers to pay into the system and other funding means that are sustainable over the long term, need to be considered.
And, it’s not just roads and bridges that need investment.
“I believe the definition of ‘infrastructure’ needs to be expanded to include ports, labs and broadband,” said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-6).
The 6th District is in the lower 20 percent of access to high-speed internet nationwide, he said.
Kilmer told the crowd that lack of broadband access led one school to bus its students to another school district to take the state’s standardized tests that must now be taken online.
“It's about educational equity,” Kilmer said of the lack of access to high-speed internet in pockets of the state.
To help, Kilmer sponsored the Broadband for All Act, which he explained would use the tax code to incentivize businesses and residents to pool together to complete the last mile of broadband infrastructure to those without connectivity and receive tax credits to do so.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers highlighted another critical piece of infrastructure that needs Congress’ full attention: The Snake River dam system.
Not only do the dams provide access to water for crop irrigation, but they also support the transport of agricultural goods from Eastern Washington to the ports on the west side of the state and generate clean hydropower for families and businesses in the Pacific Northwest, she said.
A bill she sponsored would continue the successful improvements to the dam system that support healthy salmon runs and wildlife habitat.
The support for additional infrastructure resources doesn’t stop in the House.
"As a voice for our state in the U.S. Senate, I have been especially proud to work with you as we search for collaborative solutions to address so many of the issues that impact all of us, in communities across our state, from strengthening our state’s crumbling infrastructure to finding common ground to balance the needs of workers and our agricultural communities with our nation’s laws,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in a video message.
Long overdue infrastructure upgrades are expensive. A study funded by AWB, Washington’s cities, counties and ports calculate $190 billion in infrastructure funding needs, the bulk of which is transportation upgrades and maintenance, but also for broadband expansion, port upgrades and other infrastructure needs that grow commerce across the state.
Heck said he believes there will be some interest in addressing infrastructure spending in January and there may be a major push to get an infrastructure funding plan through Congress.
“I’m optimistic,” he said.