President Joe Biden's signature infrastructure package is now law. What does it mean for Kansas?
After months of pushing and prodding, with no shortage of false starts and apparent dead ends, a $1 trillion-plus infrastructure package championed by President Joe Biden is now law.
The measure passed the U.S. House of Representative earlier this month after members reached a deal to approve the package, sending it Biden's desk. He formally signed it into law Monday.
"We did something that's long overdue, that long has been talked about in Washington but never actually been done," Biden said shortly after the legislation passed out of the House.
How did the Kansas delegation vote on infrastructure?
Republicans in Kansas' House delegation voted no on the measure, joining U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who opposed the legislation in the U.S. Senate.
The lone exception was U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., the state's only Democrat in Congress, who was a cheerleader for the bill. In a statement after the bill's passage, Davids acknowledged it "is not absolutely perfect, but it is absolutely necessary" and lauded the billions of dollars of investment that will be coming to Kansas.
"For months, I have been working hard to deliver an infrastructure bill that creates jobs, tackles climate change and boosts our economic recovery here in the Kansas Third District," Davids said. "Today, I voted to send a bipartisan bill to the President’s desk that will bring $3.8 billion to Kansas to meet those priorities—without raising taxes on the middle class."
Some conservatives — including U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, R-Kan., — objected to an expected multi-billion dollar expansion of the social safety net, which is considered to be the second part of the legislative package.
But for many, the cost of the bill was the hang-up. Biden and others argue that siphoning off monies from unused federal funds, COVID-19 relief aid and other measures would offset the package's $1.2 trillion price tag.
But Moran argued the spending wasn't actually paid for, with the Congressional Budget Office noting it would add to the deficit and that mechanisms proposed by Democrats to offset the spending wouldn't raise as much as initially envisioned.
“Unfortunately, to sum up, there is too much spending, too much debt, and therefore there will be too much inflation,” Moran said. “My efforts to reach a compromise were honest and sincere and I regret that we were unable to arrive at a bill I can support.”
Still, the legislation is set to have a major impact on Kansas. While billions will flow to overhaul the state's roads and bridges, funds will also be set aside for everything from rural broadband to public transit.
“It fixes a great number of issues,” Curtis Sneden, Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce president, said earlier this year. “This package represents the exact type of investment we need to be making now if we are going to get to the future we know it is waiting for us.”
Over $2 billion in highway, road funding headed to Kansas
Kansas is in line for $2.6 billion in highway funding over the next five years, based on past federal transportation dollars. The state is in line to receive an additional $225 million for bridge repairs on top of that amount.
The state received a "C" on its 2018 infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The group estimated that 5% of the state's nearly 25,000 bridges were structurally deficient as of 2019, with 12% of all roads in Kansas deemed to be in poor condition.
In Topeka alone, there are 59 bridges deemed to be in need of corrective action, though none have been designated as unsafe by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Kansas is in the midst of the latest 10-year transportation plan, with the details approved by state legislators in April 2020. That plan involves previously announced federal investment, though it is unclear how the new money might alter the existing plan.
The state can also apply for $16 billion in competitive funding that has been set aside for more complex projects.
Money to help Kansas beef up electric vehicle charging
Kansas is in line to get $40 million to boost the state's network of charging stations for electric vehicles, though environmental groups maintain more work needs to be done at the state-level to encourage residents to buy a Tesla or Chevrolet Volt.
The federal funds come on top of plans by KDOT to spend $2 million of the state's share of funds from a lawsuit settlement with Volkswagen to add charging stations at 12 sites along major highways, most notably I-70.
And the Kansas Corporation Commission is considering whether to approve a plan from Evergy that would provide electric vehicle owners with rebates, educate consumers on the benefits of the cars and expand utility-owned charging stations outside the Kansas City, Mo. metro area.
But the state ranks at the bottom of the U.S. Electric Vehicle Accessibility Index, a report published by the consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Center. This is largely because the state bans manufacturers from selling directly to consumers, a move which puts EV manufacturers who have eschewed the traditional dealer model in a difficult place.
Broadband, water, rail infrastructure included in package
Kansas is set to receive at least $100 million to improve broadband access in both rural and urban parts of the state, something which has long been a bipartisan priority at the state and federal level.
The bill also aims to increase competition in underserved areas, a move targeted at cutting costs for residents. It also would create a new federal program to help low-income residents have internet access going forward.
Similar efforts are likely to be a priority for state officials, who are weighing how to spend $1.3 billion in federal COVID-19 aid from a separate federal relief package. Connectivity — which will likely center on broadband — is one of the core spending areas lawmakers are examining.
Kansas will also get over $450 million for water infrastructure, including replacing lead pipes and pipe fittings. The exact number of lead service lines in the state are unknown but the National Resources Defense Council estimates over 160,000 are currently in use in Kansas.
And the package includes $272 million in funding to improve public transit offerings and a multi-billion investment in Amtrak to clear the agency's maintenance backlog and expand services, including a potential extension of the Heartland Flyer route from Oklahoma City to Wichita.
Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.