Infrastructure Bill Leads to Rift Between NKY Congressman, Chamber
Two infrastructure bills are being discussed in the U.S. Congress and are expected to pave the way for numerous initiatives across the country.
One bill, a budget reconciliation bill with the hefty price tag of approximately $3.5 trillion, is being referred to as 'the human-infrastructure bill'. It contains items relating to child care, action on climate change, and more affordable education opportunities.
The other bill, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, was approved by a 69-30 vote in the Senate, and has a price tag of approximately $1 trillion, focuses on more traditional forms of infrastructure like roads, bridges, and ports. All three Northern Kentucky judges/executive of Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties expressed that this infrastructure bill would be the region's best chance to fund the Brent Spence Bridge project without tolls during a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce (NKY Chamber) event earlier in September.
That project, which would add a second companion bridge to the existing I-71/75 span between Covington and Cincinnati, has been estimated to cost north of $2 billion.
The judges/executive are not alone.
Gov. Andy Beshear, Kentucky State Senate President Robert Stivers, and NKY Chamber President Brent Cooper have all previously expressed that this bill would be the best shot Northern Kentucky will have of funding the Brent Spence Bridge project without tolls, long a point of contention in the debate surrounding the project since Northern Kentucky commuters would likely carry the financial burden of tolling the bridge.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has alluded that this bill is highly likely to provide substantial funding for the bridge.
However, there is nothing in the bill that specifically says money will be allocated to the Brent Spence Bridge project.
Senator McConnell previously described the process as starting with an application to receive funds for projects. The projects must meet certain criteria in order to be considered. It's been rumored that the criteria needed was written with the Brent Spence Bridge in mind, yet the Brent Spence Bridge does not appear in the bill by name.
The lack of specificity in how, and if, funds will go to the bridge has Congressman Thomas Massie skeptical of the bill - which he says he will vote against if a vote is called on Monday, as currently scheduled.
"I would not vote for the $1.2 trillion bill," Congressman Massie told RCN. "There is no guarantee the Brent Spence Bridge will be funded by the bill."
Despite not supporting the complete bill, Massie says that he was able to name three specific projects in Northern Kentucky that will receive funding: a road project at the airport, an east-west connector along KY536, and a road project in downtown Covington. All three projects were identified as priorities by Massie's office after discussions were held with the counties' judges/executive and Covington Mayor Joe Meyer.
Massie says he was only able to name projects that had been reviewed by the state's transportation cabinet, and was limited to a total of $20 million - which is why he was unable to specifically name the Brent Spence Bridge project.
"This is $3.5 trillion over the period of ten years," Massie explained. "It's implemented as mandatory spending and not discretionary spending. It's money that goes on autopilot and happens regardless of whether or not congress renews it. It's not fair to say we are spending this all in one-day, but it is fair to say that we are obligating the money to be spent over the next ten years."
Massie said he thinks Congress should do more specifically-named projects, instead of putting money into giant funds and hoping it goes somewhere useful.
To complicate matters further, the traditional-infrastructure bill could rely on the Senate passing the human-infrastructure bill because of the House's progressive caucus threatening to vote against the $1 trillion bill until the other bill is passed.
"It's like a game of ping pong with two balls in play," Massie said.
The NKY Chamber has noticed Massie's caution, leading President and CEO Brent Cooper to describe the situation as frustrating.
"This piece of legislation is our best opportunity to get a new bridge - possibly without tolling," Cooper said. "Polls show that NKY businesses and residents overwhelmingly support a new bridge and feel it should be the federal government's responsibility."
Cooper also said that the bill is important because everything in the Northern Kentucky region is linked to the Brent Spence Bridge. He also recognized how the bill was crafted and supported in such a bipartisan manner - citing both Republicans and Democrats who voted for it in the Senate. He also shared that stae Senate President Stivers (Republican) and Governor Beshear (Democrat) both recently voiced support for the Brent Spence Bridge, and said everyone is waiting on this federal package to pass before a plan can be finalized.
"This is our number-one issue," Cooper said. "It impacts our workforce, logistics and quality of life."
Massie says there are too many bad items in the bills for him to support either of them.
On the $3.5 trillion bill, Massie says that he was shocked that Democrats are referring to the immigration amnesty parts of the bill as human infrastructure. He also fears that parts of the bill could translate into gun control - particularly the adoption of 'red-flag laws,' that he says circumvent citizens' Second Amendment rights.
On the more traditional infrastructure bill, Massie says he is worried about publicly funded electric-car charging stations.
"I'm worried if they are publicly-funded there is no incentive for privately-funded electric-car charging stations," he said. "Then the taxpayer is subsidizing electric-cars whether they have an electric-car or not."
He also said the bill provides funding for initiatives expanding broadband internet access, but that includes getting broadband internet to prison inmates.
Cooper says that he feels that the Northern Kentucky business community is growing increasingly frustrated, particularly since this is happening on the heels of Massie's no vote last year on emergency funding from the CARES Act - which Massie acknowledged he voted against because its loan program gave funds to Planned Parenthood, gave governors an incentive to shut their states and economies down, and distributed checks to people who shouldn't have qualified for them.
"Last year, our community went through an economic event the likes of which haven't been seen since the Great Depression," Cooper said. "If the CARES Act hadn't passed, we would've been in another Great Depression. That no vote, because the bill wasn't perfect, went directly against the needs of hundreds of thousands of Northern Kentuckians, small businesses in particular. They needed that assistance to survive. Here we are again, with an opportunity to get much needed infrastructure, and because the bill isn't perfect, our own congressman may be voting against it. This is a very frustrating situation for business owners."
"I certainly want to see the bridge funded, but this bill does more harm than good," Massie said. "At the end of the day, this bill does not say Brent Spence Bridge, it does not say anything about tolls. I would challenge anybody to show me where it says that there will be no tolls if this bill passes, or where it says there is funding for the Brent Spence Bridge."
Cooper's frustration seemed exacerbated by Massie's lack of participation in any discussions surrounding the bridge - besides a joke the congressman made during an event celebrating CORBA's ten-year anniversary.
"We expect our congressman to respect the wishes of his constituents and fight for a new Brent Spence Bridge," Cooper said. "It's baffling to us that he's not talking about it, and hasn't for some time."
Cooper also said that the NKY Chamber rarely speaks out so directly like this - but added that this is too big of a deal to stay silent on.
"This isn't personal or partisan. It's not something we want to do, but our own congressman doesn't appear focused on our top issues," he said. "We need him to start talking about the things Northern Kentucky cares about."
-Connor Wall, associate editor