Connecting state and local government leaders
In some states, leaders have already selected point people to help guide spending with billions in new, federal infrastructure dollars.
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As vice president, Joe Biden got the job of being the point person for overseeing massive federal spending in a 2009 stimulus bill. Apparently, he thought a position like this was a good idea, because, as president, he appointed an infrastructure czar to oversee the massive federal spending in his new $1.2 trillion infrastructure law. And now, his administration is asking states to do the same.
Hello and welcome back to Route Fifty's Infrastructure Update, I'm Dan Vock. This week, we’ll be taking a look at the Biden administration’s push to get states to set up formal oversight mechanisms for the influx of infrastructure cash they’re about to receive.
The call came in a letter that Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor who is Biden’s senior advisor and infrastructure implementation coordinator, sent to all governors. Landrieu said the system of having state-level point people had worked well when the Obama administration rolled out its stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. For that effort, the National Governors Association helped develop a network of state recovery coordinators, Landrieu noted.
“Given the success of this model and the highly integrated nature of the  bipartisan infrastructure law, I humbly request that you consider appointing a high-level person to serve as your state’s own infrastructure implementation coordinator,” Landrieu wrote to the governors.
The coordinators would work with state budget experts, as well as the agencies responsible for transportation, water, broadband and energy programs to coordinate their states’ new infrastructure activities.
Having a “senior, single point of contact” would also make it easier for federal officials to work with individual states and get feedback about how to roll out different programs, Landrieu said.
A handful of states have already set up oversight mechanisms for the new federal money.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, tapped former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez as the state’s infrastructure advisor in November. The appointment came just two days after Lujan Grisham attended the signing ceremony for the infrastructure bill at the White House.
The governor’s office touted Chavez’s credentials, particularly his experience as mayor overseeing a major public works project that diverts water from the Rio Grande to Albuquerque. It was one of the biggest infrastructure projects in state history.
In an interview with Route Fifty, Chavez said his job entails looking over a major influx of capital money to the state. That includes:
- $3.7 billion from the federal infrastructure bill.
- $478 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act that the legislature recently appropriated.
- $1.7 billion in anticipated state revenue from oil drilling.
“We have a huge amount of money coming into New Mexico, more than we’ve ever had before,” he said. “The governor’s charge is very simple: She wants the money out the door, and she wants it to be transformational.”
One example would be to build up the infrastructure around the port of entry at Santa Teresa, just west of El Paso, Texas, which has become a booming logistics and manufacturing hub. Chavez said improving access to Interstate 10, adding runway capacity to the airport in Santa Teresa and flyovers for truck traffic could further boost the area’s economic potential.
Chavez has traveled the state looking for those kinds of opportunities and trying to figure out how New Mexico can help move those projects along. Many rural communities, for example, don’t have experienced grant writers or project managers, so he’s looking for ways to provide them with that expertise, either through the state or through private entities.
Within state government, he’s pushing for ways for agencies to work together more consistently. Chavez is also looking for ways to speed up the state’s procurement process for the infrastructure money, so projects don’t languish for too long.
One of Chavez’s more ambitious goals is to set up a spending dashboard that will help the public and policymakers track what money is coming in, what rules are attached to it, what contracts are associated with that funding, and whether projects are on time or delayed. He hopes it will be out by the end of the month.
“After that, we want to take every grant that is available from every other state in America,” he quipped.
Other State Plans
Miles Baker is the infrastructure point person for Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican. Baker told members of the state chamber of commerce that part of his job will be to help people understand that the infrastructure law is not as open-ended as earlier Covid-era federal stimulus packages. But the infrastructure package’s emphasis on energy efficiency and serving disadvantaged communities could serve Alaska well, he said.
“If we get in there [with federal agencies] early and help try to define some of these criteria for new programs, Alaska will be competitive,” he said.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, appointed one of her advisors, Leah Horner, as the state’s new infrastructure director last week. Horner will lead a state infrastructure cabinet to coordinate the state’s response. The group will be tasked with tracking spending, getting community input and preparing Oregon businesses for contract opportunities, according to a press release.
In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson created an infrastructure advisory committee to guide the state’s efforts related to the federal infrastructure package.
Meanwhile, Landrieu said the Biden administration has been trying to get the $1.2 trillion of federal infrastructure money to states and other recipients as quickly as possible. More than $65 billion was already heading to state and local governments, he said. The biggest chunk of that -- $52 billion – was for highway spending, but the federal government had also sent out billions of dollars to upgrade water infrastructure, modernize airports, clean up toxic waste sites and upgrade ports, he said.
That's it for this week's edition. If you haven't already, consider signing up here for Route Fifty Today, our daily newsletter, where you can stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices happening in state and local government nationwide. If you have news tips or feedback, if you want to share your community's story, or if you just want to say hello, please email me at email@example.com and follow me on Twitter at @danvock. Thanks for reading!