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Shaheen: Infrastructure Package Will Help Expand N.H. Broadband, Improve Public Transportation

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NHPR
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Sen. Shaheen is one of the negotiators on the federal infrastructure bill.

After months of negotiations, Republicans and Democrats in Washington say they are ready to move forward with a trillion-dollar infrastructure package. New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen has been one of a bipartisan group of negotiators working on this bill.

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NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Shaheen to get an update on where the package is going.

How Shaheen Says The Infrastructure Bill Will Provide Additional Funding

  • To help communities with PFAS contamination
  • For broadband expansion to help connect more households to high-speed Internet
  • To help improve public transportation

Transcript

Sen. Shaheen: We had a very good vote in the Senate on Wednesday. We got 17 Republicans to join the 50 Democrats to support moving forward on the bill. It's likely we will have some more votes today on this package, and it really is a historic investment in the nation's infrastructure, more than we've ever done before. 59 billion dollars in new money over the next five years on top of what we already appropriate for roads and bridges for water and wastewater.

There's a significant portion of this bill that deals with broadband to help connect households, and we know in New Hampshire that's a real challenge. People in the North Country, in the western part of the state, don't have access to high-speed Internet. There's funds for PFAS to help communities address PFAS in their water. So really, for electric buses to help us as we move to a low- and no-carbon system in this country to address climate change, there's funding to help with the electric grid, to make it more resilient and to help us as we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Rick Ganley: So much there to unpack, Senator. This bill overall, is it 550 billion? Am I getting that right? The new federal money?

Sen. Shaheen: It's a little more than that. 559 billion. OK, new money over five years.

Rick Ganley: And as you said, we're talking about roads, bridges, rail, other transit systems. What are some of the areas in New Hampshire that you think are going to benefit the most?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, New Hampshire, sadly, is in the bottom 10 states in the country in infrastructure. One of the challenges we have is with our bridges. This will be the biggest investment in bridges since the interstate highway system was built. So I hope we're going to benefit from some of those dollars to help us rebuild some of our bridges that are in trouble. As I said, the internet. We know there are significant portions of New Hampshire that need access to high-speed Internet. There will be funds there to help build out and make communities connected. There is help for resilience to help us. That's sort of an umbrella term to help us address the challenges that we're facing now from climate change.

Rick Ganley: You're talking about water systems and stormwater systems and such?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, that's right. And also, as we're looking at sea rise on our coast to help address that. So a lot, as you say, a lot to unpack, and there may be changes in the legislation as it moves through the process. But I think a really important investment that will help us create jobs. And that's one of the other significant impacts of this bill.

Rick Ganley: How long would it take for that money to get out and make these upgrades? How long, how long is it going to be before we start seeing this money flow?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, hopefully, we'll be able to get this package done this fall by the time it goes through the Senate and in the House, I expect it to be September. And, you know, and then it will go out over the next five years because, as I say, it's new spending over five years, so we should begin to see some of that, I would think, before the end of this year.

Rick Ganley: I want to talk a little bit more specifically about some of the provisions here. When it comes to climate change plans, President Joe Biden has really intertwined his climate change plans with this bill. How specifically do you see this bill addressing the causes and impacts of climate change right here in New Hampshire?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, there are some provisions in the infrastructure package that we're voting on now. There are also some additional provisions in the bill that passed through the Budget Committee, the bigger package that invests what President Biden has called his family's plan. So combined, there will be, I believe, a real effort to help us address climate change. One of the things that's in our proposal, in addition to helping with resilience of the electric grid, is a significant investment in no carbon or low carbon busses. So electric busses, but also busses that might be run on hydrogen and low carbon fuels. So that will be a major investment that the United States can develop in a way that makes us a leader in the world. Significant investment in transit, which will be important as we look at how we get more cars off the road, having a transit system that works more efficiently. Rail, as I said. It's the biggest investment in rail since Amtrak was started. So there's a lot there to help us. This we're looking at how we address climate change.

Rick Ganley: You mentioned earlier job creation possibilities here. What exactly do you think are those possibilities in this bill, specifically here in the Northeast, in New Hampshire?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, any time we've got, we're building roads, we're fixing our bridges, we're creating efforts to deal with clean water and wastewater. That creates jobs. And so that's good news for New Hampshire and good news for the country. And usually, jobs that are in infrastructure and construction are good jobs. They pay well. So hopefully this is going to be not just an important investment in our infrastructure, but an important investment in creating jobs for people.

Rick Ganley: And as you said, there's a lot of talk about public transit, growth and commuter rail specifically. That has been a controversial issue here in New Hampshire in the past in this rural state. What would you like to see this bill achieve here on that issue?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, back when I was governor, we started trying to get rail up from Massachusetts into Nashua, an extension of their MBTA. We were not successful at that because we were never able to provide the state match. But we did start, the Downeaster started when I was governor. And I was pleased that New Hampshire was one of those states that makes stops in going from Portland to Boston. So I think there's a lot of interest in rail and New Hampshire, and we have a lot of people who ride from the Seacoast, from Dover down where I live, into Boston on the Downeaster. And, and they're able to use the train part of the time and the bus as part of the time. We have a very good bus system. C&J and the Concord Coach go down to Boston, and so from the Seacoast, you can ride the train or the bus. It would be nice if from Manchester, or Concord you could do the same thing, and this is an opportunity for us to see where rail makes sense.

Rick Ganley: Infrastructure, Senator, has typically been a pretty bipartisan issue, but there was a lot of back and forth even with this package. Democrats, you know, they had to cut down a lot on what you were looking for. What compromises did you end up making?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, I think there was a compromise in the overall number and there have been compromises and details of the proposal, but the important thing is we got a package that had an equal number of Democrats and Republicans working on it. We made those compromises. We all gave something. You know, when you're negotiating legislation, one side doesn't usually get everything we want. If it had been a bill I was writing, I probably wouldn't have written it exactly the way this was written. But it's important for the country. And I think it's an important signal to say that we can work together, that the process does work and we can get something done by compromising. Unfortunately, in the partisan environment that we're in, Rick, too often compromise has become a bad term on either side. People want everything that's on the agenda, but that's not the way legislation usually works and it's not the way our country works. Our country was built on compromise, the Constitution, efforts over the years and figuring out how to work together is really important to deal with the challenges that we face in America.

Rick Ganley: There's a separate 3.5 trillion dollar package in the works right now, is this how Democratic lawmakers plan to move forward with some of those cuts that you had to make?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, I think the 3.5 trillion dollar package that came out of the Budget Committee is focused on what President Biden called his Families Plan. So the president presented two proposals. One was the jobs plan, which is focused on building infrastructure. What we think of, as, you know, the traditional infrastructure, which is what we've been working on in the bipartisan package. And then the other proposal that was really more focused on investment in people. In child care and home and community-based services and family medical leave and health care, and that's the package that came out of the Budget Committee and we've just seen the bare outlines of it. I'm sure once we finish the infrastructure proposal. That's when we're going to dig into that larger package and see exactly what's in it and how we can move forward on that.

Rick Ganley: There was some controversy with the Republican colleagues about that, and that might, you know, might endanger the infrastructure bill. That's not an issue now?

Sen. Shaheen: I think it's important for us to continue to work on both of these pieces of legislation in good faith and try and get something done to address the challenges we face in the country. We need to start working together and stop being so partisan, and that's what I've been trying to do.

Rick Ganley: Yeah, this infrastructure package, though, although you've got bipartisan support here, it's pricey. How is Congress going to pay for all this?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, we are going to unveil the pay-fors as we go forward. There are no new taxes in it, and there are a number of other ways to pay for it that make use of some of the money that has been put out to deal with COVID that hasn't been used. That's one of the things we do. And there are a whole series of other ways in which we pay for the bill.

Rick Ganley: And can you, can you outline the next steps here, what's going to come in the next days and weeks?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, we're actually waiting for the legislative text on the bill because once we agreed to a framework, then the legislative councils within the Senate have to write the bill. And that's what we're waiting for now, and dealing with some of the minor issues that come up as they're writing that legislation. We will take a look at that and then we'll move forward there. I assume there will be an amendment process on the floor so people will have a chance to offer changes. And hopefully once we do that, we can get agreement [with] more than 60 votes, which is what we had to proceed to the bill to actually pass them. And then it goes over to the House.

Rick Ganley: So your confidence is high that this will pass?

Sen. Shaheen: It is.