As Republicans and Democrats argue on Capitol Hill over defining infrastructure, stakeholders in Florida wonder what could be in an infrastructure plan for them?
Democrats in Washington want to spend more than $2 trillion on what is known as the American Jobs Plan. Republicans agree on the idea of an infrastructure plan but have a very different idea of what that plan should entail and how much it should cost.
Meanwhile, local stakeholders are just hoping for a deal of any kind.
During a Florida-specific conference to discuss innovation in transportation, infrastructure, and resiliency hosted by lobbying firm The Southern Group, Michael Berson, a Washington-based lobbyist from Adams and Reese who has clients focused on the federal infrastructure plan, said that while the detailed text for the infrastructure plan has not been released, President Joe Biden’s recent “skinny” budget proposal, an initial budget request that is traditionally light on details, should shed clues about infrastructure items that could affect Florida.
For example, Berson said, the budget includes items to address climate change, such as home retrofits, weatherization, pre-disaster planning and electric vehicle infrastructure, something Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault said is a priority for the Sunshine State.
Speaking at the same conference earlier in the day, Thibault said the switch from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles will dramatically impact Florida. He said FDOT is working on adding more electric vehicle charging stations to Florida’s highways, but, Thibault said, declining revenues from gas taxes will eventually have to be offset.
“If you think about what’s going to happen to our revenues, if we continue in the same path without making any changes by 2040, we can expect a reduction in gas tax revenue anywhere from 8.4% under the conservative scenario to as high as 30% under the aggressive model,” Thibault said. “All this, by the way, occurs while Florida continues to grow, which is increasing our demands on our transportation infrastructure.”
Jeff Brooks, a Washington-based lobbyist representing transportation clients for Adams and Reese, also spoke at the conference. He advised lobbyists in Florida with clients that want a priority funded through the plan should get with their representatives now.
“I don’t know if they’re going to have earmarks or they’re going to have projects,” Brooks continued, “I think you push your members of Congress; if they’re going to be doing it, and your Senators, to include that in any final transportation bill because that’s where Florida really can get an advantage.”
But Brooks also cautioned a final infrastructure bill remains a big “if,” because Republicans and Democrats differ on how to define infrastructure. Brooks said Republicans only want to fund “hard infrastructure projects,” but Democrats are willing to open up funding to include “human infrastructure,” such as creating jobs and addressing racial injustice.
“You’ve got to define what infrastructure is in order to determine what you want to fund,” Brooks said. “Republicans think of it as roads, bridges, the tangible piece. President Biden and his administration want infrastructure to be all the other thing that go into it.”
Berson said he sees infrastructure talks at the federal level, which he estimated were at least a month behind schedule, going three possible ways.
Democrats could, without input from Republicans, roll expenditures for an infrastructure package into the fiscal year 2022 budget. A second option would be Republicans and Democrats could reach a compromise on a hard infrastructure package worth $1 trillion. Then Democrats could put forth another larger infrastructure package that includes the human infrastructure items Republicans didn’t like. And a third option would be a $1 trillion hard infrastructure package is passed with no human infrastructure push by Democrats.
And, Berson said, public perception is likely to come into play.
“I think that there is a belief, from a polling standpoint, that the public will reward Biden for reaching a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure,” Berson said, “and I think the Democratic Party as a whole also views a bipartisan agreement as being politically beneficial.”