Guest Column: Sharice Davids: Bipartisan infrastructure deal can bring us out of the Eisenhower era

August 22, 2021
In The News

By Sharice Davids

Driving into Kansas’ 3rd District from the east, you see a sunflower-adorned sign that says, “Kansas welcomes you,” followed by another: “Home state of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th president.”


Drive a little farther along the river and you’ll see the 102-year-old Central Avenue bridge, which was closed indefinitely earlier this year due to fear of failure. Head south and you’ll find the College Boulevard bridge over Indian Creek, one of the most traveled bridges in Kansas, which is still rated structurally deficient.


Just a few miles from the recognition of President Eisenhower, creator of the interstate highway system and champion of infrastructure, we see crumbling bridges and congestion. It’s clear that the Eisenhower era isn’t cutting it anymore.


Earlier this month, the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure package — praised by people from both parties, including Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Deb Fischer of Nebraska — as the largest standalone infrastructure investment in decades. It’s supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, National Association of Manufacturers and more.


This bill isn’t absolutely perfect, but it’s absolutely necessary. And with a remarkable 69 votes in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats are working together to deliver jobs and economic recovery through infrastructure.


Infrastructure touches so many parts of our lives and those of future generations. I believe, as Eisenhower did, that it is key to building long-term economic growth. We can make smart choices that boost American competitiveness, tackle climate change and advance equity now and into the future.


This bipartisan deal is projected to create 2 million jobs per year for the next decade, with fair wage requirements written into the text. It sets Kansas up for a bright future with millions in federal funding to expand affordable high-speed internet access, paving the way for the next great regional technology company. It promotes domestic competitiveness in emerging industries such as electric vehicles, with $6 billion to spur advanced U.S. battery processing, manufacturing and recycling.


When I read that, I think: That’s $6 billion of opportunity for those new industries to find a home in the Kansas City metropolitan area.


It also addresses immediate infrastructure needs, from roads and bridges to public transit and rail, to waterways and airports. That breadth of impact is important for Kansas City, where many different transportation systems converge. Using past funding as a guide, Kansas can expect to receive $3.8 billion from this bill over the next five years, with $2.8 billion for road and bridge improvements alone. That means federal dollars for priority projects in our area like the College Boulevard bridge, the Highway 69 expansion, electric KCATA buses, and more.


These everyday systems connect us to one another — our families, friends and jobs — and to broader opportunities. These are incredibly worthwhile investments and it’s important we make them with an eye on the fiscal impact.


This bipartisan infrastructure package is paid for without raising taxes on people who make less than $400,000 a year. It uses both new, Congressional Budget Office-scored revenue raising efforts and unspent emergency relief funds. Plus, independent studies have shown that the investments in this bill will have multiplier effects on the economy, improving productivity and boosting economic output without increasing inflation.


As with any compromise, there were things I wanted to see included that were not. This bipartisan deal has historic investments in clean energy transmission, public transit and electric vehicles, but that’s because the last significant federal transportation legislation was in the 1960s. To propel our infrastructure — and our economy — into the modern era and face down the threat of climate change, I believe we need to do more. That’s what I’ll continue to push for.


This bill is large — but so is the problem. The last time we saw this level of investment in America’s infrastructure was when Eisenhower recognized an opportunity to rebuild the economy and create jobs through infrastructure projects. His “Grand Plan” also took compromise to become reality, but it proved him right.


We should take lessons from that history — that infrastructure can set the foundation for economic growth out of a crisis, and that pragmatism is important to that goal — and pass this bipartisan infrastructure package without delay.


Kansans are rightfully sick of partisan gridlock in Washington. We have the opportunity right now to pass a transformational infrastructure bill that creates well-paying jobs, boosts our economy and invests in the projects that matter most to Kansans. We shouldn’t waste any time getting it done.