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Sacto Metro House members largely mum on infrastructure

Two weeks ago, President Joe Biden proposed his eight-year $2.3 trillion “American Jobs Plan.” This would be the largest infrastructure investment in American history. Much has been written nationally about it, but four of the five House members representing the Greater Sacramento Metropolitan area have said precious little so far.

So the Sacto Politico contacted all five representatives to get their current thoughts on the plan and what projects they may want prioritized to benefit constituents. The four Democrats and one Republican are Doris Matsui and Ami Bera, who cover 96% of Sacramento County; John Garamendi representing Yolo, Sutter and Yuba counties; Republican Tom McClintock whose 4th district includes El Dorado and Placer counties; and Jerry McNerny whose 9th District extends from southern Sacramento County to Stockton.

Of the five, only McNerny’s office responded with a direct comment on the plan. His statement said, in part, “President Biden’s American Jobs Plan will make bold investments to fix our nation’s crumbling infrastructure... and it includes many of the policy objectives that I have been working to advance in Congress.”

McClintock’s office did relay they didn’t have anything to share publicly at this point, and Bera, Garamendi and Matsui never responded to multiple emails and calls. However, we did catch Matsui on a news conference call yesterday dedicated to the caregiving infrastructure portion of the Biden plan (although this publication did not learn of this from Matsui’s office).

Why these four House members are reluctant to communicate widely on the infrastructure plan is not known. Together they represent 1.8 million registered voters or nearly one in every 12 voters in California (8.1%). The huge American Jobs Plan is on a fast track with enactment intended July 4. Through various sources, here’s what we have learned so far about the local elements of the Infrastructure Plan.

Overall Plan & Strategy

The Biden plan is broken into four categories: transportation, community, R&D/Workforce Manufacturing and elder care. It would be paid for mostly by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. This would take the corporate rate halfway back up to the 35% rate where it was before the Trump tax cuts.

Republicans’ complaint with the plan starts with a largely semantic one. They think only investments in highways, bridges and roads should count as “infrastructure,” or about 6% of the total bill. They don’t think investments in broadband, water systems, housing efficiency programs or community healthcare should be called “infrastructure” or included. They call these “socialistic.”

But if the Biden Administration’s definition of infrastructure is overly broad, then the Republicans’ terminology is way too restrictive. Regardless of nomenclature, the Biden Administration has expressed interest in negotiating with willing Republicans on the policy details, and that’s where the strategy for passing an infrastructure plan gets complicated.

Congressional sources said that, like with the recent Covid relief and stimulus bill, Democrats will be pushing forward on both an “A” plan and a “B” plan. The “A” plan involves negotiating with some Republicans, but if most Republicans want a plan closer to $120 billion (6% of total) and not $2 trillion, then the Democrats will go the reconciliation route to circumvent the filibuster.

As bills get marked up in multiple committees, both parties will probably play a waiting game. The Democrats will wait to see if any Republicans want to come over and get more dollar for their districts, and the Republicans will hope Senate centrist Democrat Joe Manchin will vote against with them due to the plan costing too much or not bipartisan enough.

Transportation Investments

If something close to $2.3 trillion passes, on a straight per capita basis this would represent $276 billion for California investments. On just transportation, this would mean about $75 billion.

This week the White House issued fact sheets on every state’s infrastructure needs. The California sheet gave the state C- overall on infrastructure. This appears to be from the American Society of Civil Engineering grade that is two years old, but provides a snapshot with more than 1,000 bridges and 10,000 miles of highway rated as in “poor” condition.

The good news is if federal dollars are contingent on state and local matching funds – as they usually are – then California’s 10-year SB1 highway funding program passed in 2017 provides a ready-made source for state matching dollars that would cover much of the 8-year American Jobs Plan.

An estimated $54 billion was expected to be raised over SB1’s lifetime through the gas tax. Like the transportation elements of the American Jobs Plan, SB1 provides funds for more than just highway and bridge repairs. This includes for local roads, bike, pedestrian, mass transit and freight projects.

At this point, not determined is whether the final infrastructure plan will feature project-specific funding earmarked by individual representatives and senators, or if funding will be blocked by state or region for dispensing from there. To be prepared for the earmarking option, Rep. McNerny has opened requests for individual projects through his web site for submitting specific Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) project requests. (Nothing similar for T&I projects could be found on the other representative’s sites.)

This included Rep. Garamendi who serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, one of the key committees that will markup portions of the American Jobs Plan. On his office Web site, he applauded the Biden infrastructure plan but provided few local details beyond emphasizing a need to “improve the region’s dilapidated highway infrastructure while encouraging public transit and bicycle/pedestrian travel. I will continue to defend the Capitol Corridor [train service] and other regional transit services.”

Also notable, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last week said some of the $80 billion recommended for rail project investment could be used for California’s Central Valley bullet-train project. California’s High-Speed Rail Authority expressed enthusiasm for this idea, but Central Valley U.S. Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) has come out against spending more money on this expensive rail project. Los Angeles-area Reps. Michelle Steele (R-Orange County) and Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) last month sponsored a bill banning further funding of the route.

Broadband & Digital Infrastructure

One infrastructure area with some solid detail is covered by LIFT America Act (H.R. 1848), drafted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee that both Reps. McNerny and Matsui sit on. This bill would likely provide a starting point for mark-up discussions and includes areas such as clean and efficient energy, safe drinking water, Brownfield cleanups, expanding broadband access and adoption, and improving the nation’s health care infrastructure.

On broadband policy, the Biden plan currently calls for $100 billion. The LIFT America Act includes two broadband-related bills by Rep. McNerny that would ensure everyone has high-speed internet service. One bill – the Broadband Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (BIFIA) – would address the infrastructure build-out portion to fill in pockets without broadband access or with subpar service that don’t meet current needs for families with two adults working from home.

According to the White House fact sheet on California infrastructure, 5.5% of Californians live in areas where the broadband infrastructure does not provide minimally acceptable speeds. Plus 59.2% of Californians live in areas where there is only one such internet provider. Plus, even where acceptable infrastructure is available, 10% of California households do not have an internet subscription.

To help address this, McNerny’s other bill is the Digital Equity Act. Its goal is “to close gaps in broadband adoption and digital literacy,” his office said and “ensure that people in our communities have the resources, support, and technologies necessary to take advantage of a broadband connection. Far too many people do not have broadband inside their home because they cannot afford it and because they do not have the necessary digital skills, even though they live in areas with broadband access.”

Aging Caregiving Infrastructure

The Biden plan also calls for $400 billion to raise wages and working conditions for caregivers to senior citizens and those with disabilities. It would also increase the availability of caregiving services so fewer family members need to take time off from their careers to care for an aging or less independent loved one.

On Tuesday, members of the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Aging and Families held a news conference call to discuss this. This included task force co-founder Matsui. Few details were shared, but Matsui addressed the criticism that long-term health care services shouldn’t qualify as as traditional infrastructure or be included in the plan.

“Building bridges and roads, and expanding broadband are traditional infrastructure. And supporting American family through health care is essential infrastructure. It really is not an either-or. We need both,” Matsui said.

She also said in Sacramento many of her constituents find the caregiving infrastructure frustratingly very limited. Even a family with Medicaid and in-home support services have difficulty hiring caregivers due to low wages and poor working conditions.

“Many Americans can understand and appreciate the foundational role of the family caregiver,” she said. “Caregivers are the bedrocks. They help us all keep going. At home and in our communities, the caregiving is so often done by women and, particularly women of color, who serve as a backbone of our collective economic help.”

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