LEXINGTON, Ky. — President Joe Biden released details on March 31 about the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, which would provide funding for infrastructure, clean energy, innovation, research and development, manufacturing and workplace support, and the caregiving economy.
What You Need To Know
- Kentucky receives a "C-" on Infrastructure Report Card
- Coal-producing counties hit especially hard with funds dwindling
- Leaders await guidance on how to spend money
- Pike County Judge-Executive says flexibility is critical
The proposal also includes revenue figures to partially offset the new initiatives by increasing the corporate tax rate to 28%.
In a recent speech at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Pittsburgh Training Center, Biden said the plan is a transformative effort to overhaul the nation’s economy, calling it the most significant federal jobs investment since World War II, create hundreds of thousands of jobs and make America the global leader in emerging sectors such as battery technology, biotechnology and clean energy.
The plan has been met with opposition from both parties, with progressive Democrats saying it does not do enough to address climate change, and Republican lawmakers, led by Kentucky Senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, rejected the plan almost as soon as it was announced. McConnell called the bill "another round of massive spending" at a recent stop in Lexington.
“It is described as an infrastructure bill, but as I listened to it and looked at what was being advocated here it was another round of massive spending with a huge tax increase,” he said.
McConnell did not go into specifics of what the infrastructure plan would look like for Kentucky and its roads, bridges, and highways.
“I can't imagine myself if that's the package, a bunch of more borrowed money, plus, undoing the tax relief that drove our economy to a 50-year high,” he said. “I can't imagine that's going to be very appealing to many Republicans. Infrastructure, however, is appealing and if we can figure a way to do a paid-for, arguably more modest approach, I'd be open to it but not, not what I think they're peddling.”
Kentucky earned a grade of C-minus on the more recent “Kentucky Infrastructure Report Card” from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Commonwealth received grades in 10 categories, with the highest being B-minuses in energy and solid waste. Kentucky’s drinking water and aviation each received a C-plus while bridges and wastewater were given C-minuses. Dams, levees and roads were graded as D-pluses and hazardous waste a D.
“Infrastructure deteriorates as it ages, and it must be repaired or replaced when it exceeds its useful life,” according to the report card’s executive summary. “The effects of time, weather, and increased use from a growing population are impacting the quality of the infrastructure in our state. Looking ahead, there are opportunities for Kentucky to invest not only in the infrastructure in need of repair and replacement, but also to plan strategically for the future. Through smart investment and collaborative coordination, Kentucky has the opportunity to meaningfully improve critical infrastructure networks, including water, wastewater, roads, rail, airports and freight to ensure both local and statewide economies can grow. Strategic investments and proper planning will also provide safe and healthy environments for our children, neighbors and communities.”
Water and wastewater needs are plentiful in rural Kentucky, and eastern Kentucky in particular, as is broadband access, for which Biden’s plan allocates $100 billion. Crumbling roads and dilapidated bridges are also major concerns across the Bluegrass State.
Former Kentucky State Senator and current Pike County Judge-Executive Ray Jones said if the plan passes, he expects Pike County to receive around $11 million but, he has not received any official guidance about how that money can be spent.
“We've been told so far that it limits us to spending it on the internet, water and sewer,” Jones said. “We've got a lot of other infrastructure problems – roads, bridges and those kinds of things that need to be repaired – so we’d like some flexibility, but we also have plenty of water and sewer needs.”
Jones said $11 million is not enough money to implement a large broadband expansion project in Kentucky’s largest county.
“With the cost in rural America, and in a county this big, to expand broadband access, that money really doesn't allow us to do what really needs to be done,” he said. “Our estimates to do broadband in areas we think would be the most feasible is $150 million.”
If Pike County does receive $11 million from the jobs plan, Jones said the intent is to use some of it to complete the development of a county industrial site and other economic development projects.
“We do have some water projects we'd like to do, but from what I've been told so far, you can't use this money for existing infrastructure,” Jones said. “I don't know that for sure because I've not seen official guidelines on it, but the money has the potential to be of significant help for us to provide areas of Pike County, some of the most rural areas, with water where the aquifers have been damaged by mining activities. Once we receive the guidance we will have a better idea of what we're going to do.”
Using the Jobs Plan money to develop the industrial site would do exactly what the plan is meant to do, which is create jobs, Jones said.
“There's been a lot of discussion about the feasibility of industrial sites in rural Kentucky, and particularly eastern Kentucky, because of how many of the sites haven't been very successful,” he said. “I've had difficulty recruiting businesses, but the one thing is for sure: If you don't have a site prepared with water, sewer and broadband, you have a zero-percent chance of bringing any kind of economic activity to the region. It is an investment that may take some time to reap any type of direct benefit.”
Most of all, Jones said, he would like some flexibility with regard to using the money.
“We are in desperate need of money for transportation at the county level,” Jones said. “Our rural secondary roads are in horrible shape. There are areas that really need guardrails and we have numerous county bridges that need to be replaced and there's no money for that.”
Jones said Pike County lost about $400,000 in county road aid when the gas tax was reduced from 32 cents to 26 cents and with the decline in coal severance tax revenue, which was also used to help build and repair roads in rural Kentucky, money for infrastructure has never been more important in coal-producing counties.
“Coal counties, and especially a county like Pike with somewhere close to 1,000 miles of roads, have had to use single-county coal service tax money to address some of our worst road problems, and that’s money we need for other infrastructure and things like economic development. We would love to see a substantial infrastructure. We have built infrastructure in Afghanistan and Iraq and in all these other countries while the infrastructure United States is falling apart. We need help in rural Kentucky. These roads are in terrible condition and it's not because they don't want to fix them, it’s because the counties don't have the resources. You can’t neglect roads to expand broadband access.”
A spokesperson in Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton’s office said it is too early to talk about potential projects because there has been no guidance offered. Gorton will give her budget speech Tuesday, April 13, during which some information about potential projects could be disclosed.