With Covid Aid Approved, Counties Will Look to Infrastructure

The U.S. Capitol building.

The U.S. Capitol building. iStock.com/Stephen Emlund

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

A major public works package, which proved elusive during the Trump years, is the next priority county governments will press for on Capitol Hill.

Securing aid for local governments as part of coronavirus relief legislation was the top concern for many county governments heading into 2021. With around $66 billion for counties included in the massive aid package President Biden signed Thursday, county leaders will now begin shifting their federal advocacy efforts to focus more on infrastructure and broadband.

While former president Donald Trump repeatedly voiced interest in an expansive infrastructure program, his administration was never able to build support for a plan among Republicans on Capitol Hill. With Democrats now in control of Congress and the White House, groups like the National Association of Counties see a renewed chance for action on the issue.

Mark Ritacco, NACo’s director of government affairs, noted that there’s a sense of urgency for those backing increased federal infrastructure investment. It’s possible Democrats could lose full control of Congress in the 2022 election cycle, in which case the window for major legislation would likely slam shut.

But even with Democrats in charge of the House and holding a one-vote majority in the Senate, passing a major infrastructure bill promises to be tough. Congress is now on track to spend up to $6 trillion on pandemic relief packages it has approved since last year. That’s more than the entire amount of spending of $4.4 trillion in the fiscal 2019 federal budget.

With all of the covid relief outlays, deficits are now on track to be around $3 trillion two years in a row, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget recently pointed out. To avoid adding to the nation’s annual budget shortalls and growing debt, Congress and the White House would need a plan to raise revenue to pay for new infrastructure spending. 

A gas tax increase is one option, but is a non-starter for many Republicans and is also flawed as the nation continues to shift toward more fuel-efficient and electric vehicles. There’s some bipartisan support for transitioning to a mileage-based charge, but it would take time to set up a system to collect these fees and some people have privacy concerns about the idea.

And while higher taxes on motorists could help fund roads and transit, there are also massive infrastructure needs in other areas, like water and sewer systems, the power grid and public works to protect communities from sea level rise and flooding from storms and rivers. 

It’s possible Congress could expand the financing tools available to states and localities under federal tax laws. For instance, one possibility would be to restore a tax exemption for a municipal bond refinancing and restructuring option that was eliminated during the 2017 federal tax overhaul. 

Steps like this might help with funding projects. But smaller and mid-sized localities, in particular, often argue that they need more federal dollars, not just new ways to borrow.

Counties can end up being an overshadowed level of government, with states and cities frequently getting more attention. But they are responsible for large amounts of the nation’s infrastructure, including about 45% of roads and 38% of bridges. So the stakes for them in forthcoming infrastructure debates in Washington are high.

“Infrastructure,” said Ritacco, “is, of course, a huge county priority.”

A related issue is broadband. Many rural communities struggle with poor or nonexistent high-speed internet service. Ritacco said that, in recent months, the No. 1 issue he’s heard about from county officials, apart from the pandemic, is the need for improved broadband. 

During the past year, amid the Covid-19 outbreak, with millions of Americans working from home, kids attending school online, and telehealth appointments becoming more common, shortcomings with high-speed internet access have only become more glaring. 

"The pandemic has really laid bare the inequities in our broadband infrastructure,” Ritacco said, noting that while the problems with connectivity tend to be more acute in rural areas, they can exist in urban communities as well. "If your community was not set up with reliable internet before the pandemic,” he said, “your outcomes for the pandemic were a lot worse.”

While there’s been progress on improving high-speed internet access in recent years, Ritacco said the technical complexity of expanding the network, the complicated policies and regulations involved, and the cost explain why lawmakers and internet providers have so far been unable to fill in service gaps more completely.

“There’s been incremental investments,” Ritacco said. “But we’re looking for the type of generational investment in broadband that will help us catch up.”

During the Trump years, NACo, which has more members from areas that are rural and tend to lean Republican than groups like the National League of Cities or U.S. Conference of Mayors, was known for having one of the warmer relationships with the White House among the groups that advocate on behalf of local governments. 

Ritacco said that the group is so far getting along fine with the Biden administration as well. “The relationship with the Trump administration and NACo was excellent,” he added. "The relationship with the Biden administration and NACo is also excellent.”

Bill Lucia is a senior editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

NEXT STORY: Retrofitting Parking Garages Could Help With Affordable Housing Shortage

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.