By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – In a week after the Dow crossed 36,000 for the first time ever and 531,000 new jobs were created in October, House Democrats aided by 13 Republicans – though none from the Indiana delegation – voted late Friday night to pass President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill by a 228-206 vote. Six progressive Democrats voted against the measure after Speaker Nancy Pelosi received commitments on the Build Back Better Act to split the votes from this record infrastructure bill.

The bill will bring more than $8 billion to Indiana to revitalize roads and bridges; $751 million to ensure safe, clean drinking water; $680 million to improve public transportation systems; $350 million to expand broadband internet access, especially in rural areas; and $20 million for Indiana to respond to extreme weather events.

But like just about everything else in this era of American politics, the infrastructure bill was characterized as “solving problems” in the words of Democrat U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan, or denounced as a “socialist scheme” according to Republican U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski.

“We have discussed the need to make desperately needed investments in our infrastructure and broadband technology for too long,” Mrvan told the NWI Times following the House vote. “Today, we delivered.”

Walorski said, “As Hoosier families face the devastating ramifications of President Biden’s inflation and supply chain crises, President Biden and the Democrats’ socialist tax and spend scheme is astonishingly out of touch with the American people. This big-government behemoth was never intended to help working families grow and succeed – it has always been about securing more control over Americans from cradle to grave. As made clear by this radical scheme, Democrats are focused on grabbing power and deepening Americans’ dependence on welfare without work.”

U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Newburgh, observed, “While there may be individual pieces of this bill that would meaningfully invest in our nation’s infrastructure, this legislation in its totality misses the mark. Only a fraction of funds contained in this bill are actually going toward critical infrastructure, with tens of billions in misaligned spending going towards Democrats’ pet priorities. More importantly, this bill is nothing more than a Trojan horse proposal designed to enable the far-left Democrats to ram through their larger $1.85 trillion bill that is full of job-crushing tax increases and budget-busting spending. These two bills are different sides of the same fiscally irresponsible coin.”

And U.S. Rep. Jim Baird, R-Greencastle, said he could not support the infrastructure legislation because he considers it “little more than a Trojan horse” for additional, future Democratic spending proposals.

But Hoosier Republicans didn’t balk at receiving a portion of the estimated $28 billion the Trump administration paid to American farmers from 2017 and 2020 as part of the Market Facilitation Program and Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Those programs paid billions to farmers for losses driven by tariffs that China placed on agricultural imports from the U.S. in retaliation for Trump’s trade war.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act comes on the heels of Biden’s American Rescue Plan last spring that will bring some $4 billion in federal investments to Indiana, including $1.28 billion for municipalities. ARP funds will also fund Gov. Eric Holcomb’s $500 million READI grants. So Hoosier governments are going to be seeing an unprecedented $13 billion over the next four or five years.

Recently released state-level data demonstrate that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will deliver an array of upgrades for Indiana, coming some 16 years after the $3.8 billion Indiana Toll Road lease fueled Gov. Mitch Daniels’ 10-year, fully funded road program. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed and signed by President Obama in February 2009 during the Great Recession and included $1.4 billion for Medicaid expansion (HIP 2.0), $1.3 billion for education, $650 million for roads and bridges, $400 million for nutrition and another $600 million for weatherization, water quality, housing, public transit and child care.

What the IIJA will do

The historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is designed to:

Repair and rebuild Indiana roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians. In Indiana there are 1,111 bridges and over 5,478 miles of highway in poor condition. Since 2011, commute times have increased by 4.4% in Indiana and on average, each driver pays $638 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system. Based on formula funding alone, Indiana would expect to receive $6.6 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $401 million for bridge replacement and repairs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over five years. Indiana can also compete for the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program for economically significant bridges and nearly $16 billion of national funding in the bill dedicated for major projects that will deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.
  
Improve healthy, sustainable transportation options for millions of Americans. Hoosiers who take public transportation spend an extra 88.7% of their time commuting and non-White households are 4.5 times more likely to commute via public transportation. In Indiana, 38% of trains and other transit vehicles are past useful life. Based on formula funding alone, Indiana would expect to receive nearly $680 million over five years under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to improve public transportation options across the state.

Build a network of electric vehicle chargers to facilitate long-distance travel and provide convenient charging options. The U.S. market share of plug-in electric vehicle (EV) sales is only one-third the size of the Chinese EV market. The bill invests $7.5 billion to build out the first-ever national network of EV1. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Indiana would expect to receive $100 million over five years to support the expansion of an EV charging network in the state. Indiana will also have the opportunity to apply for the $2.5 billion in grant funding dedicated to EV charging in the bill.

Help connect every American to reliable high-speed internet. Broadband internet is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected. According to the White House, 16% of Indiana households do not have an internet subscription, and 3.2% of Hoosiers live in areas where, under the FCC’s benchmark, there is no broadband infrastructure. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Indiana will receive a minimum allocation of $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to at least 217,000 Hoosiers who currently lack it. And, under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, 1,624,000 or 24% of people in Indiana will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access.

Prepare more of our infrastructure for the impacts of climate change, cyber attacks, and extreme weather events. From 2010 to 2020, Indiana experienced 34 extreme weather events, costing the state up to $10 billion in damage. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, based on historical formula funding levels, Indiana will expect to receive $20 million over five years to protect against wildfires and $20 million to protect against cyber attacks. Hoosiers will also benefit from the bill’s historic $3.5 billion national investment in weatherization which will reduce energy costs for families.

Deliver clean drinking water to every American and eliminate the nation’s lead service lines and pipes. Currently, up to 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and child care centers lack safe drinking water. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, based on the traditional state revolving fund formula, Indiana will expect to receive $751 million over five years to improve water infrastructure across the state and ensure that clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities.

Improve our nation’s airports. The United States built modern aviation, but our airports lag far behind our competitors. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, these values are estimates and may change based on updated factor data each fiscal year. Airports in Indiana would receive approximately $170 million for infrastructure development for airports over five years.

Holcomb and Chamber react

Indiana Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb told the NWI Times the federal funds “will be used to continue the state’s trajectory of improving our infrastructure, which is the foundation in growing an even stronger economy. Indiana’s healthy fiscal position has led to extensive investments in our communities. We have dedicated $270 million in grants to connect all Hoosiers to broadband access, $475 million in funding for three infrastructure projects that will be transformational for the state, and an additional $500 million in the READI program to jump start community investment and collaboration.”

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce said the spending is well worth it. “We simply couldn’t let our infrastructure further deteriorate and burden business and citizens alike,” Indiana Chamber CEO Kevin Brinegar said. “(This) is the type of long-term, needed commitment to improve the state and nation’s infrastructure system that we’ve sought for more than a decade. In fact, it’s the largest investment ever in bridges – many of which have been dangerously deteriorating for years – since the interstate highway system was constructed. We thank Indiana Congressmen André Carson and Frank Mrvan for voting for the bill.”

The bipartisan National Governors Association gave its blessing. “Governors commend Congress for setting aside partisan differences to pass a bill that works for the American people,” said Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, NGA chairman. “States stand ready to immediately put these funds to good use to fix and improve our nation’s infrastructure.”

Political impacts


Indiana Democratic Chairman Mike Schmuhl said the infrastructure measure fulfills President Biden’s pledge to work across the aisle to form bipartisan coalitions to solve some of the most pressing problems facing the United States. “Unfortunately, Indiana Republicans always choose extreme partisanship when it matters most over creating a better future for Hoosier families,” Schmuhl said. “Democrats look forward to holding Indiana Republicans accountable with every ribbon cutting or photo-op they attend as they take credit for work they did not do. Simply put, they said ‘NO’ before taking the dough.”

Former president Donald J. Trump said in a statement, “Very sad that the RINOs in the House and Senate gave Biden and Democrats a victory on the “Non-Infrastructure” Bill, where only 11% of the money being wasted goes to real infrastructure. How about all of those Republican senators that voted thinking that helping the Democrats is such a wonderful thing to do, so politically correct. They just don’t get it!”

A Washington Post analysis of the assertion that only 11% of the funds will go to traditional infrastructure showed this statement was not accurate. “No matter how you slice it, the claim that the infrastructure bill is only 11% ‘real infrastructure’ is simply false,” the Post analysis explained. “More than one-third of the bill would qualify as infrastructure under the standards used by Trump during his presidency. But many more elements could be considered infrastructure, bringing the percentage as high as 80%.”

The most likely political winner is U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan, whose revamped 1st CD is on an NRCC target list. Other Hoosiers likely to be bolstered would be any incumbent mayor, city councilman, county commissioner and councilman who will have unprecedented amounts of funds to invest in their communities.

While the Indiana Democratic Party will seek to hold Republicans “accountable” at future ribbon-cuttings, the severe nature of the redrawn congressional and General Assembly maps will likely dampen the impact on the nine members of Congress who opposed the bill.

There could be an opening for Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and his challenge to U.S. Sen. Todd Young in 2022. McDermott hailed passage of the bill. In August, Young announced he would vote against the bill despite helping to negotiate the final Senate version.

“For the last several months, I’ve been working diligently with my colleagues toward a bipartisan infrastructure bill to provide crucial funding for our crumbling roads and bridges and to make targeted investments that yield positive long-term results in areas like broadband, ports, and airports,” Young said. “As I’ve said many times, while I’m eager for a bill that makes these investments, I’m also committed to doing so in a fiscally responsible way. Having reviewed the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) estimated fiscal impact of this legislation as currently constructed, and frankly still not being comfortable with a number of the Democratic priorities contained in this version, I will vote ‘no.’”

Speaking in LaPorte on Wednesday, Young defended his no vote (NWI Times). “The two were linked together by (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi,” Young said of Biden’s Build Back Better plan that is still awaiting votes. “And if I ended up enabling the passage of a human infrastructure bill, the people of Indiana would be really upset with me.”

Young said he’s confident “the people of Indiana won’t support” those programs, and he especially objects to the child tax credit not being linked to a requirement that the child’s parents be working to claim the credit.

“It effectively creates a universal basic income and will forever incentivize people to stay out of the labor market, which will be most injurious to people of modest means,” Young said.

LaPorte Mayor Tom Dermody, a Republican, said he doesn’t care how Young voted, so long as Young works to help his city secure the estimated $100 million needed to construct an alternative traffic corridor that will get the hundreds of semi-trailer trucks currently driving through downtown each day on a new route around LaPorte.

Young’s dilemma – if there is one in what are expected to be big GOP gains in the 2022 mid-terms – is that McDermott will have ample opportunity to say Biden and Democrats are bringing home the bacon. Young will benefit from the timeline. Many of the ensuing projects will not be completed by November 2022.