Representatives from local, statewide and national chambers of commerce are calling on congressional lawmakers to pass a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill they say is critical to support local growth and talent attraction.
On a conference call today, the Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Chamber of Commerce called for swift U.S. House passage of the bill, which cleared the Senate 69-30 last week with bipartisan support.
“It will improve U.S. global competitiveness at a time when we’re desperately seeking to compete,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “It will improve conditions on the ground for states and communities all across the country.”
If passed as drafted, the $1.2 trillion public works spending package includes $7.3 billion for Michigan highways and $563 million for bridge replacement over the next five years. Michigan would also receive $1 billion for public transportation; $110 million in direct funding and potentially $2.5 billion in grant funding for electric vehicle charging stations; $1.3 billion for water infrastructure; and $100 million to expand broadband internet access.
Battle Creek Chamber President and CEO Kara Beer said public transportation and broadband investments would particularly benefit the city of Battle Creek.
“We have a large number of unemployed folks here who can’t afford broadband,” Beer said, citing the importance of both broadband accessibility and affordability. “Passing (the bill) … will have a large impact not only on our business community but also our education system.”
Beer also noted that it can take two to three hours “at a minimum” each way for workers taking public transportation from the city to the nearby Fort Custer Industrial Park, highlighting the need for improvements.
Grand Rapids Chamber Vice President of Government Affairs Andy Johnston called an infrastructure package “the best idea that never gets done,” and said Senate passage “gives us a lot of hope.”
“We’ve been a long-time supporter of increased investment in infrastructure,” Johnston said, adding that the West Michigan region is helping to drive the state’s population growth based on new U.S. Census data.
“Our success in population growth only highlights the need for more of this (infrastructure spending) to attract the talent we need in the region,” Johnston said.
Despite bipartisan support in the Senate and from the Biden administration, the infrastructure bill faces uncertainty in the House. Moderate and progressive Democrats are debating whether to tie the bill to a separate $3.5 trillion budget deal that would deliver even more spending on infrastructure, public health and climate change.
“You’re seeing some within the Democratic Party argue this bill should really be used as leverage for other unrelated policy priorities,” Bradley said. “We shouldn’t be using this bill for leverage at all. These investments are long overdue. The idea that you’re going to hold that hostage … that’s playing politics.”
While some Republicans have expressed concerns about the bill’s price tag, Bradley said others have been unwilling to work with Democrats, who control the executive and legislative branches.
“On the Republican side, we’ve also seen some suggest that it’s a Democratic White House with majorities in the House and Senate: ‘Why should we help them advance something with bipartisan credit? Let them be responsible for it,’” Bradley said. “That’s playing politics, too.”