Connecting state and local government leaders
They’re cautioning the White House against pushing “a social agenda” under the public works law.
Sixteen Republican governors pushed back at the Biden administration over its plans for how to dole out money coming from a new federal infrastructure law.
“We ask that your administration not burden states or private sector partners with needless and unnecessary red tape,” the Republican governors wrote in a letter sent to Biden on Wednesday.
“Excessive consideration of equity, union memberships or climate as lenses to view suitable projects would be counterproductive. Your administration should not attempt to push a social agenda through hard infrastructure investments and instead should consider economically sound principles that align with state priorities,” the Republican governors added.
The GOP executives objected to a letter that Biden infrastructure czar Mitch Landrieu sent to the governors earlier this month. In that letter, Landrieu, a former New Orleans mayor, said the administration would be “good stewards” of the new money.
That meant “working to achieve goals around creating good middle-class jobs, supporting disadvantaged and underserved communities, advancing climate resilience and sustainability, and investing in American manufacturers,” Landrieu wrote. He said formal rules on how the money could be spent would reflect those priorities.
But the Republican governors argued in their letter that the Biden administration should instead “defer to the states and confer maximum regulatory flexibility” to them.
“Simplicity, flexibility and finality will drastically improve states’ ability to develop and implement plans,” they wrote.
The Republicans said a “clear example of federal overreach” would be if the Federal Highway Administration prevented or restricted road-widening projects. Biden’s FHWA has suggested it would favor using the money to fix existing roads rather than expanding them or building new ones.
“Attempts to disallow the use of funding for general purpose widening projects would be biased against rural states and states with growing populations,” the Republican officials countered. “Future prosperity would be negatively impacted if this anti-growth mindset is allowed to become firmly entrenched in transportation policy.”
The Administration’s Goals
The Biden administration has sought to influence how states and other recipients of the infrastructure spend their money, by emphasizing the need to reduce carbon dioxide pollution and to address historic racial inequities in infrastructure policy. The president had hoped a second legislative package, called the Build Back Better Act, would have helped those policy goals of the administration. But the future of that legislation is in doubt, after it stalled in the U.S. Senate.
So, the administration is also pursuing those goals through its rollout of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law, which passed Congress with bipartisan support. However, federal agencies have limited power to do so, when it comes to money that’s distributed by formulas in federal law.
The GOP governors noted that Republican-led states had successfully challenged restrictions the Biden administration had placed on how states could spend money they received from last March’s American Rescue Plan Act.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee led the group of Republican governors who signed the letter. The governors of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming also signed on.
Last year, Lee rallied a different group of 15 Republican governors to try to put pressure on Biden to address widespread supply chain delays.