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Wyoming elected leaders largely opposed to Biden infrastructure plan
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Wyoming elected leaders largely opposed to Biden infrastructure plan

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CHEYENNE – Wyoming’s federal delegates have largely come out in opposition to President Joe Biden’s roughly $2 trillion infrastructure plan, even as a few details of how the plan could impact the state were released by the White House earlier this week.

The president’s proposal, known as the American Jobs Plan, calls for the modernization of 20,000 miles of highways, roads and main streets nationwide, as well as the reconstruction of the 10 most economically significant bridges in the country and 10,000 smaller bridges in poor condition. The proposal also earmarks billions of dollars for upgrades to public transit and housing units, improved access to long-term elderly care, and investments in the manufacturing and broadband industries.

The American Jobs Plan would largely be funded by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% and by deterring corporations from avoiding tax payments through profit-shifting to other countries.

On Monday, the White House released state-by-state fact sheets outlining various infrastructure challenges across the country. For Wyoming, the fact sheet offered the following details:

Wyoming has 218 bridges and over 380 miles of highway in poor condition.

Since 2011, commute times have increased by 3.5% in Wyoming, and, on average, each driver pays $295 per year in costs caused by driving on roads in need of repair.

32% of transit vehicles and trains in Wyoming are past their useful life. Residents who take public transportation spend an extra 150% of their time commuting, with non-white households 1.2 times more likely to commute via public transportation.

Over the last decade, Wyoming has experienced 15 extreme weather events, costing the state up to $5 billion in damages.

Biden’s plan calls for $50 billion to improve national infrastructure and support communities’ recovery from disaster.

Over the next 20 years, Wyoming’s drinking water infrastructure will need $458 million in additional funding to remain viable. The American Jobs Plan includes a $111 billion investment to upgrade the country’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems.

An estimated 27,000 renters in Wyoming are rent-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent. Biden’s proposal would invest over $200 billion to increase the housing supply nationwide and address the affordable housing crisis.

27% of Wyoming residents live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. 63.6% of residents live in areas where there is only one such internet provider, and nearly 12% of Wyoming households lack an internet subscription.

The American Jobs Plan will invest $100 billion in an effort to bring high-speed, affordable coverage to every family in America.

In Wyoming, there is an estimated $149 million gap in what schools need to do maintenance and make improvements, with 34% of residents living in a child care desert. The American Jobs Plan calls for a $25 billion investment to help upgrade child care facilities and increase the supply of child care in the neediest areas.

Manufacturers account for more than 5% of total output in Wyoming, employing 10,000 workers, or 3.5% of the state’s workforce. The American Jobs Plan calls for investing $300 billion to revitalize American manufacturers, including providing incentives for manufacturers to invest in innovative energy projects in coal communities.

In Wyoming, an average low-income family spends between 6% and 8% of its income on home energy costs.

The American Jobs Plan will upgrade low-income homes to make them more energy efficient by investing in expanded weatherproofing and offering additional tax credits to support home energy upgrades.

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Wyoming has outsized potential for innovative energy technologies, including carbon capture and sequestration and geothermal energy generation, that create good-paying union jobs. As of 2019, there were 8,721 Wyomingites working in clean energy-related jobs, and the American Jobs Plan invests in building that industry through a reformed and expanded Section 45Q tax credit and extending renewable energy tax credits.

Wyoming is home to more than 47,000 veterans, 9.8% of whom are women and 43% of whom are over the age of 65. Biden’s plan would allocate $18 billion to improve the infrastructure of VA health care facilities to ensure the delivery of world-class care to veterans enrolled in the VA health care system. This includes improvements to ensure appropriate care for women and older veterans.

So far, the proposal has largely drawn criticism from Republican leaders in Washington, and Wyoming’s congressional delegates have been no exception.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., quickly condemned the plan after its unveiling, calling Biden’s proposal “an out-of-control, socialist spending spree.”

“This proposal starts with the punishing policies of the Green New Deal and builds back worse from there,” Barrasso said in a statement. “It will hike taxes and spend trillions of dollars on the left’s radical agenda.

“Democrats are offering to hamstring the economy with higher energy bills and higher taxes for families in Wyoming and across the country,” he continued. “Republicans want to protect our energy dominance, and let hardworking Americans keep the money they earned. President Biden should change course and look to our bipartisan highway bill from the last Congress if he is really interested in improving our infrastructure.”

Wyoming’s congresswoman, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., has also bashed the plan. On Sunday, Cheney joined CBS’s “Face the Nation” to discuss the plan, which she said would have to be “fundamentally redone” for Republicans to support it.

“The National Association of Manufacturers has said we will probably lose over a million jobs if this is enacted, and you are certainly going to see in addition to the corporate tax increases in the bill, you’ll see middle class tax increases,” Cheney said.

During the interview, Cheney also made the argument that 6% of the roughly $2 trillion plan would actually go toward addressing infrastructure needs, though that figure only accounts for roads, bridges and highways, rather than other types of public works under the bill that are commonly considered as infrastructure. Cheney’s definition of infrastructure in the interview earned her a “Pants on Fire” rating in a PolitiFact article Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., has not been as outspoken against Biden’s proposal as the state’s other two delegates, though she has retweeted statements from other Republican senators opposing the measure. Lummis had not responded to a request for comment by press time Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Gov. Mark Gordon and his team continue to review the details of the plan in discussions with Wyoming’s federal delegation, and the governor “remains concerned about the scope of the proposal,” according to his spokesman, Michael Pearlman.

“The governor does not believe that raising taxes to spend trillions is a responsible approach, and does not support the administration’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate to fund this plan,” Pearlman told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on Wednesday.

“The governor has continually stressed the need for infrastructure investment in the state, particularly the need for stable, secure, flexible funding for transportation projects along the I-80 corridor, investment in our state’s aging water infrastructure (illustrated by the Goshen irrigation canal collapse last summer), investment in carbon capture and sequestration, and investment in broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved areas,” he continued.

Although the plan will likely require some compromise in Congress – a handful of Republican senators have prepared a pared-down counter proposal this week, according to The Washington Post – at least one aspect of the sweeping proposal has generated some excitement from local leaders.

Under Biden’s plan, Amtrak would receive $80 billion, and the company recently released a proposal that would expand passenger train service nationwide, including an extension into Cheyenne from the Front Range.

Dale Steenbergen, CEO and president of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, said during a virtual event Monday that the railway extension would be a “game-changer” for the capital city.

“From Cheyenne’s perspective, this is a really tremendous opportunity,” Steenbergen said. “Our economy is all about business up and down the Front Range.”

But whether the funding for Amtrak makes it into a finalized infrastructure plan remains to be seen. Regardless of what happens in Congress, road funding will likely remain an important issue in Wyoming for years to come. Late last year, a consulting group found that the Wyoming Department of Transportation faces annually unmet needs worth about $354 million, more than half of which is for the state’s roads.

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