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Neal, House Dems Roll Out $1.5 Tril Infrastructure Bill .: The State House News Service

Neal, House Dems Roll Out $1.5 Tril Infrastructure Bill

Public Works Seen as Way of Plugging Jobs Gap

JUNE 18, 2020.....While their $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill remains before the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, House Democrats heralded a sweeping $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan Thursday that authors say could fuel a long-term recovery from the recession.

The proposal would direct hundreds of billions of dollars to transportation priorities, including funding for a passenger rail expansion connecting Boston and western Massachusetts.

It also reaches beyond transit, roads and bridges to suggest significant federal investment in affordable housing, education, internet access, clean energy and wastewater systems.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called the bill "the most transformative and consequential infrastructure bill" in the country's history during a press conference with other House Democrats.

"Everything we have done so far, the three or four bills we've passed on COVID, they have all been mitigation for economic harm," he said. "What we need now is to begin to look forward to a brighter future. That is the recovery package. We're going to need a lot of jobs when we come out of this. A lot of jobs aren't coming back, and we're going to be in something that looks a lot more like the Great Depression than the Great Recession, so we're going to need these jobs."

President Donald Trump is reportedly considering his own $1 trillion infrastructure proposal with the existing FAST Act set to expire at the end of September.

Infrastructure investments have been eyed throughout the Trump administration as an area where the president might find common ground with a divided Congress, and the new bill comes as members of both major parties are starting to juggle election-year considerations with their public policy duties in Washington.

The bill Democrats described attempts to use infrastructure investments as a vehicle to generate new economic activity amid a national recession. National unemployment rose to a record level in April due to widespread shutdowns aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 before the trend inched in the other direction in May.

"It's job creating in its essence, but it's also commerce promoting," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at Thursday's event, pledging to bring the bill to the House floor before lawmakers recess for the July 4 holiday.

According to a fact sheet published by the Ways and Means Committee, the $1.5 trillion plan would include more than $300 billion of spending on nationwide road and bridge maintenance, particularly aiming at the tens of thousands of structurally deficient bridges across the country.

The legislation would triple Amtrak's funding to $29 billion and direct more than $100 billion to other transit networks with a goal of deploying more zero-emission buses and encouraging commuters not to add to congestion-filled roadways.

Rep. Richard Neal, a Springfield native who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said his colleagues on the Transportation Committee included language he wrote "on rail transportation connecting Boston to Worcester to Springfield to Pittsfield."

Neal's office could not immediately provide details on how the legislation would support that long-sought rail project, which aims to bring passenger train service to swaths of the state west of Worcester where the MBTA does not run its commuter rail.

During the press conference, Neal said he used the New Haven, Connecticut to Springfield line, which was able to expand and run more trains with federal stimulus, as a model.

"Twelve more trains a day from Hartford to Springfield, 16 more trains a day from New Haven to Hartford -- that's what you can do with this sort of investment," he said.

Last week, Neal said

he would unveil legislation soon to direct crucial federal dollars toward East-West Rail, which the state Department of Transportation estimates could cost between $2 billion and $25 billion.

House Democrats have proposed other infrastructure bills this session, including a five-year, $494 billion version earlier this month. Neal's office said Thursday that the new, larger proposal "incorporates elements" from earlier packages "with an eye for our current situation in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic."

The new bill, dubbed the Moving Forward Act, also calls for spending more than $100 billion on affordable housing infrastructure, another $100 billion to make broadband internet more available to underserved communities, $25 billion toward clean drinking water, and $40 billion for wastewater infrastructure.

The U.S. Postal Service would receive $25 billion under the bill, while hospitals would get $30 billion for upgrades to prepare for any future public health emergencies.

Another key component of the legislation is renewable energy. The federal government would invest more than $70 billion to transition the electric grid toward renewable sources, while communities would receive funding to help prepare for the impacts of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Neal described the legislation as "the largest tax investment in combatting climate change that Congress has ever made on the renewable front."

He also said Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has already voiced support for investing in green energy and creating employment opportunities in the field.

"I've always been a believer in incentivizing certain behaviors, and what better way to do that than through attacking climate change, embracing the renewables, and putting millions and millions of Americans to work," Neal said. "I've also been in conversation with my governor, who shares my point of view on this. We talked extensively about this last Sunday. I told him it was coming and to be ready to say some good things. He said he was going to do it because he's a believer."


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