03.08.17

Appropriations Vice Chair Leahy's Statement At Subcommittee Hearing: "Investing in America: Funding our Nation’s Transportation Infrastructure Needs"

The infrastructure needs of every community are unique, yet we all share similar stories of our crumbling roads and bridges, and we contemplate high speed rail and hope for improved airport systems.  I, like many, am tired of talking about our withering infrastructure systems and Congress doing nothing, especially when we have the power to improve them. 

It was not all that long ago when transportation and infrastructure investments were bipartisan efforts.  Since that time, small, intransigent minorities in Congress have made a habit of sowing obstruction, preventing action that without question would have improved the quality of life and would have strengthened the economies of all states and all communities.  We need to return to that cooperation.  We need to get this job done.

Investment in our infrastructure would make travel more efficient, expand commerce and create jobs. That is why in January I joined Senate Democrats in unveiling a $1 trillion infrastructure plan.  The Blueprint to Rebuild America's Infrastructure supports the depleted infrastructure needs of both urban and rural centers, and creates more than 15 million jobs over the next 10 years. Our children and grandchildren, and the generations to follow, need real leadership and real action.

President Trump says that he wants to invest in infrastructure, but those words are ringing hollow.  Last week President Trump promised Congress a budget that dramatically boosts defense spending and invests in a misguided and expensive wall on our southern border that will, without question, come at the cost of federal investments in infrastructure, job creation, education and the environment. While he simultaneously criticizes the future of our country’s infrastructure, he wants to gut the very agencies that help address these vast needs. Without providing any real detail, he says he will use tax incentives to engage the private sector in fixing our infrastructure problems.  But instead of accomplishing a fair system, this plan will punish Rural America and leave rural states and regions to struggle in keeping up with urban America.

Vermont is rural:  Our population barely hovers above 625,000. I have always been proud of what Vermonters accomplish with limited resources, but my small state alone cannot carry the burden of these costly transportation projects, and it cannot simply rely on the engagement of the private sector to accomplish the investments that we need. In his address to Congress, President Trump highlighted Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System as a truly great national infrastructure investment. The investment he refers to was paid through transportation taxes, within an appropriations process, and relied on federal agencies, like the EPA, to fulfill a complex and ambitious National vision.  We have seen no such proposal from President Trump. 

Infrastructure -- whether we are talking about bridges or water treatment or airports or mass transit -- is a public good that must be fairly funded among rural and urban communities. I will do all I can on this Committee to  make sure that both are treated fairly, and I will work toward an infrastructure plan that addresses our nation’s needs – in both rural and urban areas -- our nation’s challenges – in both rural and urban areas -- and our nation’s and our communities’ opportunities.

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