News

Virginia Lawmakers Hopeful with Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

By Marrett Ceo

TIM KAINE speaking with News-Press Editor-in-Chief Nicholas F. Benton in 2017. (Photo: News-Press)

Virginia U.S. Senator Tim Kaine wanted to get legislation passed on infrastructure in order to send help to America’s crumbling roads and rails. He may not have to wait long to have that wish checked off his list.

President Joe Biden is close to securing a second legislative win when the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act likely passes with bipartisan support in the near future. The president invited several senators to the White House in a bipartisan effort to address the bill, including Virginia’s senior senator, Mark Warner, who was one of the lawmakers negotiating for the legislative language and spending. The bill passed the Senate in a 69-30 vote.

“What will be a once in 30-year investment in infrastructure, $550 billion in new infrastructure spending that will literally create tens of thousands of jobs in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Warner said, according to Roanoke-based WDBJ7 News.

For the next five years, this bill in its current form would include almost $550 billion in new federal funding, which is just half of the funding involved.

Specifically, it would invest: $73 billion to rebuild the electric grid; $66 billion in passenger and freight rail; $65 billion to expand broadband internet access; $55 billion for water infrastructure; $40 billion to fix bridges (the single largest, dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system); $39 billion to modernize public transit like buses and $7.5 billion to create the first federal network of charging stations for electric vehicles.

Lastly, $25 million will be allocated for America’s airports and $16.3 billion for America’s ports, including the Port of Virginia to improve US competitiveness.

The significance of the Senate finally approving this package is palpable. When the House of Representatives takes it up and it heads to Biden’s desk, this bill would be the first to deal with infrastructure since then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, also known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act.

Virginia specifically will receive $7 billion for highways and $537 million for bridge repair and replacement over five years. This specific funding comes at a crucial time, when 577 of Virginia’s bridges and 2,124 miles of the commonwealth’s highway system are in extremely poor condition. From this funding, Virginia will also see projects assisted, such as Norfolk Southern, Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express.

THIS MOSAIC OF ASPHALT PATCHES along E. Columbia St. might not be a top priority for infrastructure spending, but it does symbolize the amount of work that needs to be done around the country. (Photo: News-Press)

The bill becoming law also reauthorized federal funding for the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority through fiscal year 2030 at its current annual levels. The WMATA reauthorization is based on legislation previously introduced by both Warner and Kaine. It will also contribute an estimated $1.2 billion over five years to improve public transportation in Virginia, and additional $39 billion over five years for public transit systems across the nation as a whole.

Out of $65 billion allocated for broadband deployment to increase access and decrease costs associated with internet connections, nearly $100 million will be given to Virginia to address the upwards of 473,000 who lack dependable internet in the commonwealth. Finally, about 23 percent of Virginans will now be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which is geared towards helping low income families afford internet access.

“Broadband isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity, but many Virginians still don’t have reliable access to [the] internet,” Warner and Kaine said in a joint statement when announcing over $14 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide broadband service to people in central Virginia through the ReConnect Program.

“That’s why we’re glad to see these federal dollars go toward connecting people across Virginia, which will improve access to job opportunities and educational resources and help small businesses grow.”

In terms of getting more electric cars and charging stations, Virginia will also receive $106 million over the next five years to help support the expansion of an EV charging network in the Commonwealth. The state also now has an opportunity to apply for $2.5 billion in grant funding dedicated to EV charging. Separately, Virginia will receive $238 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program for ecosystem resiliency and restoration. One of the more minor provisions to the legislation includes Kaine and Senator Roger Wicker’s (R-MS) bipartisan Reaching America’s Rural Minority Businesses Act, introduced in May 2021.

The provision will help the Minority Business Development Agency to partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to establish business centers to support minority-owned small businesses in rural areas to provide education, training, and technical assistance to help them grow and thrive.

Kaine is Virginia’s junior senator, having been elected in 2012, he was re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2018. Like Virginia’s senior senator, Mark Warner, Kaine is a former governor of Virginia. They are both two of only a group of 13 men who have made the transfer to the US Senate after serving as Virginia Governor. Prior to serving as Virginia 70th governor, he served under Warner as lieutenant governor and is a former mayor of Richmond.

In 2016, after Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential candidate nominated by a national party, she chose Kaine from a diverse field to be her running mate. Kaine would have become the first Virginian since President John Tyler to seek national office. On election night, despite the loss, (Kaine’s only election loss in his life even though it was not him at the top of the ticket) Virginia was the only southern state to go to the Clinton-Kaine ticket. That victory is primarily attributed to Kaine himself.

But this is behind Kaine now, as he is focused on getting more accomplished in his work in the Senate and helping Democrats in 2022. He is now working on immigration reform on a bipartisan committee. Kaine is glad that a bipartisan bill has gotten forward but acknowledges that he did not want it to be paid for in deficit spending. The Senate will most likely have to go into reconciliation in order to get additional elements added to the infrastructure bill, such as education spending among other items.