As senators prepare to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill they negotiated with President Biden, they should be commended for incorporating several provisions that should aid control costs and donate taxpayers the most benefit on their money.
One of the reasons infrastructure projects cost so much more in the United States than similar ones in other countries is the Byzantine permitting process. The bill directs allowing agencies to cut average approval times to less than two years for major projects and includes several provisions to aid accomplish this without sacrificing significant social and environmental protections.
For example, a suggestion from Sens. Kirsten Senema (D-Ariz.), Joe Manchin, (DW.Va.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), included in the bill would strengthen the Federal Steering Board for Permit Improvement that has saved taxpayers more than a billion dollars and reduced permit approval periods for Infrastructure projects covered by up to 45 percent since its inception in 2015. The council, which is currently due to expire next year, will become enduring and expanded to include additional projects. The bill also mandates the agencies responsible for conducting reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to produce a single joint statement on environmental impact and expands NEPA’s categorical exceptions to expedite approval of projects that are unlikely to have a significant environmental impact.
To aid direct funds toward more productive and innovative projects, the bill includes more than $100 billion for competitive grant programs that use criteria such as cost-benefit analytics to award funds efficiently. Compared to similar programs in the former, the programs included in this act include significantly more funding and flexibility for complicated projects, such as those involving multiple modes of transportation. The bill also funds several pilot programs, including some to promote the use of technologies that can improve productivity, and the creation of the Infrastructure Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-I) to conduct additional research. These provisions could lead to groundbreaking innovations that aid bring US infrastructure costs down to international standards in the lengthy term.
The bill also makes effective use of the power of matching grants. State and local governments that can afford to do so are required to make some contribution to access federal funding in the bill for most projects that benefit their constituents. This matching structure directs federal dollars only toward projects in which local officials invest themselves and helps attract additional resources to supplement the $550 billion in unused federal spending billed.
But it could be better. Edited by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Alex Padilla (D-California), scheduled to vote on Saturday, will allow state and local governments to use up to 30 percent of federal Covid rescue assist for infrastructure projects, including its contribution to a federal match for projects it provides. project of law.
As these governments experience record budget surpluses bolstered by federal COVID assist that far exceeds their needs, many are start to spend assist on policies that will do little to contain the pandemic or support people suffering its economic effects, such as paying retroactive bonuses to government employees. From outside the fore lines or giving a fourth stimulus check to the vast majority of the population. It is hoped that allowing state and local governments to spend this money on productive infrastructure investments will discourage this considerate of reckless spending.
But not all of the amendments under discussion will improve the bill. One could increase Pentagon funding by $50 billion without offsetting the cost, while the other would make it easier for people to evade the taxes they owe on cryptocurrency transactions. When the bill, as written, adds more than $340 billion to the national debt, it would be a mistake to hoist that rate more for anything but lofty-return public investment. But there’s one upside to frustrated deficit hawks: The law includes a pilot for a lengthy-awaited national vehicle mileage (VMT) fee that could be tapped to replace declining gas tax revenues and pay coming infrastructure bills.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill is a transformative investment in the foundation of our economy and the coming of American infrastructure — and it does so in a way that gives taxpayers a pleasing boost for their money. Despite the final agreement’s flaws, President Biden and Senate negotiators should be commended for this historic achievement.
Ben Ritz is director of the Center for Financing America’s Future at the Institute for Progressive Policy.