Arizona’s congressional delegation split along party lines on last week’s vote on a $1.2-trillion, five-year infrastructure bill.

The lawmakers representing northern Arizona took sharply contrasting positions.

Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Oak Creek, hailed passage of the bill as a big win for District 1, which includes almost all of Apache and Navajo counties as well as southern Gila County.

“Our nation’s crumbling infrastructure has created vast and complicated problems, but perhaps nowhere has the effect been felt so acutely as in rural Arizona,” said O’Halleran. “In the shadow of wildfire burn scars, towns across our state plead for flood control project funding, families lose children trying to cross washes that need safe bridges, and hardworking Arizonans traverse some of the most dangerous roads in need of repair in our country. And, tribal families across Indian country far too often lack the infrastructure most of us have come to consider as a given—clean, running water, basic electricity, sanitation systems and an internet connection.”

However, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, voted emphatically against the bill, which includes $500 billion in new spending, re-allocates unspent COVID-19 relief money, extends fees and re-authorizes existing programs. The spending will total about $250 billion annually.

In a release Gosar said, “I voted against this so-called “infrastructure” bill. This bill only serves to advance the America Last’s socialist agenda, while completely lacking fiscal responsibility. Less than 9% of the $1.2 trillion price tag goes towards roads, bridges and major projects people generally consider infrastructure; the majority goes to special interest handouts. The bill also imposes new taxes, which is completely unacceptable. At the same time, this costly bill adds another $400 billion to the deficit.”

Gosar’s statement apparently relies on disputed calculations. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the American Jobs Act will increase the deficit by $256 billion over a decade. Moreover, the 9% figure apparently refers to an earlier, much larger infrastructure package. The price tag of the package has been essentially cut in half since those initial calculations were made, with many of the non-infrastructure elements dropped. Outside observers say a much larger share of the $1.2 trillion bill focuses on traditional infrastructure like roads, bridges, mass transit and broadband.

The White House estimates the package would produce 2 million jobs over the next decade.

The US Senate months ago passed the infrastructure bill with a strong bipartisan majority. The bill has been stalled in the House for months by the efforts of liberal Democrats to link it to a larger, “social infrastructure” bill. Last week, the progressive wing of the party agreed to vote for the American Jobs Act, with a vote on the second bill later this month. The second bill has already been trimmed from $3.5 trillion to $1.85 trillion over 10 years.

The vote represented a win for moderate Democrats like O’Halleran and Arizona senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema. Sen. Sinema played a key role in assembling a bipartisan group of moderates in the Senate that assembled 69 votes in favor of the package there – one of the few truly bipartisan votes in the past several years.

The bill that passed the House last week included $65 billion for broadband, $3.3 billion for wildfire risk reduction, $110 billion for roads and bridges, $11 billion for highway safety programs, $25 billion for airports, $3.5 billion for water and sanitation projects on reservations, $8 billion for Western water infrastructure and other measures.

“These programs will rebuild our crumbling infrastructure; keep America competitive with growing powers like China, create new, good-paying jobs that support a family; and combat climate change in the process,” said O’Halleran. “I was pleased to vote in favor of this bill that I’ve worked hard to ensure is tailored to benefit rural Arizona families. However, I remain disappointed in the politics and petty bickering that led to its delay in the first place.”

He noted that the Trump Administration tried for years to enact its own major infrastructure package without success. Nonetheless, only 13 Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill. Six Democrats voted against it.

O’Halleran observed, “For far too long, Congress has agreed that infrastructure is an American priority but has let political gridlock get in the way of concrete action. I was proud to vote to pass this much-needed package today.”

Arizona would get funding for billions in projects, including:

n $5.2 billion to build and repair roads and bridges over the next five years. Arizona has 132 bridges and more than 3,100 miles of highway in poor condition. Deteriorating road conditions have resulted in an 11% increase in commute time, costing the average motorist in cities like Phoenix about $614 per year.

n $100 million to increase broadband coverage, with much of the money going to rural Arizona. About 13% of Arizona households don’t have internet – including 5% of residents who live in areas without any access at all. The projects would provide access for an estimated 353,000 residents with no access and provide subsidies for 1.8 million low-income residents who can’t afford the internet.

n $3.5 billion earmarked to provide infrastructure on reservations nationally, including the estimated 15,000 homes on the Navajo Reservation without reliable water and sewage treatment.

n $250 million to fund the Lower Basin Drought Contingency plan, to cope with the water rationing triggered by the low water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The bill includes another $50 million for drought mitigation measures in the upper basin states and $500 million for the Western Area Power Administration to cope with the loss of electricity caused by the low water levels in the Colorado River reservoirs that generate hydropower.

n $38 million for wildfire mitigation, part of $8.25 billion for wildfire management nationally. In an era of megafires, clearing buffer zones around forested communities like Payson and Show Low hold the key to surviving the next big fire. The bill includes $20 million for Southwest Restoration Institutes, including the one at Northern Arizona University that have played a crucial role in developing plans to restore forest health through thinning projects.

n $2.5 billion to fully pay for Indian water rights settlements. This includes a water project for the White Mountain Apache Tribe, as well as projects on the Gila River Indian Community and the Tohono O’odham Nation.

n $619 million over five years to improve water infrastructure – especially when it comes to providing clean drinking water. Many rural Arizona communities that rely on aging water systems or septic systems have repeatedly had problems with water contamination in recent years. Many reservation communities have also faced problems with groundwater contamination from mining operations.

n $76 million over five years to expand the network of electric vehicle charging stations.

n $348 million to upgrade airports. Phoenix Sky Harbor would receive about $217 million and Tucson some $32 million, but smaller airports like Chinle, Wickenburg, Bisbee and Payson would receive an estimated $500,000.

n $883 million over five years to upgrade public transportation, which most of the money going to the big urban areas. However, the money would include support for bus systems, like the one operating now in Payson.

n The bill includes $3.2 billion for Western water projects, including funding for an estimate 150 project in Arizona to fix dams, canals, aqueducts and pumping plants.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

(2) comments

phxnative54

You just watch: As soon as communities start treating the benefits of the infrastructure bill, those "We don't want to govern, we want to DESTROY the government!" Republicans will start yelling "Hey, y'all, look what WE did!" Just watch...

phxnative54

*reaping* the benefits

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