During the past several months, there’s been so much partisan rhetoric thrown out about the federal infrastructure bill that Alaskans can be forgiven any confusion about what’s in it — and what isn’t. Ironically, the bill has been assailed by hardcore activists on the left and right alike, though for opposite reasons. And when a bipartisan spending bill has too little to satisfy the far left and too much to win approval of the far right, odds are it’s settled on a medium that those of us in between those two extremes can be happy with. Another sign that the bill is good for Alaska: It received the support of both of Alaska’s senators, recalling an earlier era of cooperation on infrastructure priorities that was responsible for much of the publicly funded infrastructure our state enjoys today.
So what’s in the bill? Outrage-minded talk radio and TV pundits have spent plenty of time decrying the bill, saying it contains items far outside the traditional definition of “infrastructure,” such as child care or jobless benefits. They’re either misinformed or acting in bad faith. Though early Democratic proposals for the bill contained such items, the bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and a handful of others wisely trimmed out the items that weren’t focused on “hard” infrastructure — roads, bridges, ports, trains, ferries, water and sewer lines, telecommunications and the like. The bill that our delegation supported recognized the need to maintain our country’s vital physical assets after years of neglect. Supporting rational positions like that is what we sent them to Washington, D.C. to do.
How will Alaska benefit? Thanks to the efforts and input of our senators, in a tremendous number of ways. There are too many items to list, but here are some high points:
• $180 million for improving water and sewer infrastructure, plus a share of $3.5 billion designated for Indian Health Services facilities.
• $3.5 billion over five years for road projects around the state, including $225 million to repair or replace 140 ‘structurally deficient’ bridges.
• At least $100 million in funds devoted to developing broadband internet access, much of it for rural and tribal communities.
• A portion of a $200 million nationwide federal subsidy for ferry service for the next five years, as well as several provisions that could help Alaska replace and augment its aging ferry fleet at greatly reduced cost to the state.
• The Alaska Railroad will get a share of $5 billion total in nationwide funds for rail infrastructure and safety projects.
Although many may not realize it, the infrastructure bill was split from the vast majority of the Democrats’ spending agenda. Because of that split, Sens. Murkowski and Dan Sullivan were able to support the items in the infrastructure bill. That will be tremendously important for Alaska in coming years, as ongoing revenue deficits have hamstrung the state’s ability to fund infrastructure itself via the state capital budget. Murkowski, who spent her early years under the tutelage of Sen. Ted Stevens, has found her stroke as an across-the-aisle dealmaker in a bill that recalls cooperative efforts between Stevens and Sen. Dan Inouye, who represented Hawaii as a Democrat.
Both of Alaska’s senators voted to approve the infrastructure bill, recognizing the benefits it holds for Alaska without raising federal taxes. And both senators rightly pledged to staunchly oppose Democrats’ other spending bill, containing more than $3 trillion in non-infrastructure spending that would result in tax increases.
That’s also what we sent Murkowski and Sullivan to Congress to do: To make smart decisions that benefit the state and country, and be a bulwarks against out-of-control spending increases that would raise taxes. Some House Democrats are pushing for the bills to once again be combined; our senators should fight that, as Don Young surely will, and urge their moderate colleagues in the Senate and House alike to do the same.
Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan have done right by Alaska in supporting the bipartisan infrastructure bill. If the House majority can manage to get out of its own way, the bill should pass soon. That would mean at long last, in a historically divided era of governance, Republicans and Democrats were able to put partisan differences aside and focus on improving America’s foundation. Wouldn’t that be something?