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BRENDA BLAGG: Building bridges?

Biden seeks support for infrastructure plan by Brenda Blagg | April 14, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

The White House on Monday offered up a list of infrastructure needs in Arkansas.

This state wasn't the only one that got one, of course. The White House had similar lists for all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Each is intended to help boost President Joe Biden's "American Jobs Plan," the label he's given that multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan for which he's trying to build bipartisan support.

These lists are not what the federal government is promising each state. They're more a reflection of known state needs that fit in the president's expanded definition of "infrastructure," something he's having trouble selling to the Congress, particularly to Republicans who say only a fraction of the $2.3 trillion plan would go to traditional infrastructure.

The White House fact sheets do highlight the number of bridges and miles of roads in poor condition -- 663 bridges and over 6,700 miles of highway in Arkansas, for example.

Then the list gets into issues as varied as broadband, housing, child care and veterans' health as it breaks down projected national spending in each area.

The breakdown also points out some of what it costs us all to do nothing.

Those Arkansas bridges and roads in poor condition, according to the White House, have since 2011 caused commute times to increase by 3 percent in Arkansas and cost the average driver $671 a year extra due to driving on roads in need of repair.

That assertion is followed by the pledge that the president's plan will devote more than $600 billion to transform transportation infrastructure nationwide and make it more resilient, including $115 billion to repair roads and bridges.

Similarly, the fact sheet says Arkansans who take public transportation spent an extra 31.7 percent of their time commuting, riding trains and other transit vehicles, 27 percent of which are past their useful life.

Again, the fact sheet notes a planned investment of $85 billion to modernize public transit all over the country, not what would come to Arkansas or where.

The White House also cited:

• The projected need over the next 20 years of $7.4 billion in additional funding for drinking water infrastructure in Arkansas;

• A lack of available and affordable housing here, with renters paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent;

• No broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds in areas where 27 percent of Arkansans live and only one internet provider in areas where another 54 percent of Arkansans live; and

• An estimated $350 million gap in meeting school maintenance needs, plus the absence of child care where 35 percent of Arkansans live.

Different parts of Biden's package address all those areas as well as the need to upgrade low-income homes to make them more energy efficient, retool and revitalize American manufacturers and improve the infrastructure of Veterans Administration health care facilities and the delivery of care to veterans.

Most states were given a letter grade on their respective infrastructure inventories. Arkansas was not.

Release of the state-by-state fact sheets was only part of the White House's focus on infrastructure Monday.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives in the Oval Office to discuss the plan they say will create millions of good jobs, rebuild the nation's infrastructure and position the U.S. to out-compete China -- all at that projected cost of $2.3 trillion.

It was one of many such sessions that will be needed if the administration is to find any Republican support for the plan that would also take back part of the controversial tax cut that Republicans gave corporations in the last administration.

Biden has said repeatedly that he's prepared to negotiate the extent of the project as well as how to pay for it, but he clearly wants to include items that fall into that broader definition of infrastructure.

What's more, the administration is pretty confident that Americans will want that, too, and will help persuade lawmakers to make the investments once they know what is on these lists and who he plans to have pay for it all.

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