Opinion: Georgia Democrats eager to act on Biden infrastructure plan

(Courtesy Atlanta Paving and Concrete Construction)
(Courtesy Atlanta Paving and Concrete Construction)

The phrase “infrastructure week” became a running joke during the Trump administration, as President Donald Trump kept promising but never came close to delivering on a major legislative package for new roads and bridges.

Democrats and President Joe Biden say this time will be different.

“It’s big. It’s bold. And we can get it done,” Biden said as he unveiled his proposal during a Wednesday speech in Pittsburgh, labeling it the ”American Jobs Plan.”

“We have to invest in America again,” Biden added as Georgia Democrats made clear this week that they’re ready to help.

“We need to work on the infrastructure of our country and our democracy,” U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock said.

But the calls for action are nothing new, as Congress has not approved a big infrastructure bill for new roads and bridges since 2005, during the Bush administration.

President Barack Obama tried and failed. Trump made no headway. And the arguments could be cut and pasted from years past.

“Nationwide, our roads and bridges are crumbling,” U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, said — in 2017 — when Trump made his first overture on infrastructure.

The biggest stumbling block is money. The last time Congress raised the federal gas tax was way back in 1993. The lack of new funding has left states to do more of the financial work on roads and bridges.

With limits on home-state budget earmarks in Congress, Georgia struggled — even with Republicans in charge — to get extra federal money to deepen the Port of Savannah, for example.

“The state of Georgia has significantly increased transportation funding since 2015,” Douglas Hooker, the head of the Atlanta Regional Commission, told a U.S. Senate committee last week.  “It is critical that our federal partners also identify strategies to increase transportation revenues.”

Biden’s main proposal is to fund his infrastructure plan with an increase in corporate taxes, a plan that quickly drew negative reviews from Republicans.

“This proposal appears to use ‘infrastructure’ as a Trojan horse for the largest set of tax hikes in a generation,” Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said.

But the debate about infrastructure is more than just building new roads and bridges, or funneling more money to MARTA.

In a hearing last week, U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, urged Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to do more to support rails-to-trails initiatives such as the Atlanta Beltline, which she said would ”revitalize urban centers.”

Just like with the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, Biden has a chance to enact this kind of sweeping infrastructure package only because the voters of Georgia elected two Democratic senators back on Jan. 5.

“I’m going to be urging my colleagues to work very swiftly,” U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff said about the infrastructure effort. “Do it now.”

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com.

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